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The Simpsons' not-so-little helper

Steve Johnson
Chicago Tribune (MCT)
It's big, but "Simpsons World" has 20 seasons to cover -- in exhaustive detail. (Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/MCT)

It is a doorstop, a cornerstone, the foundation piece in a great wall of geekdom.

It is the Internet in convenient book form, shamelessly bidding to land on holiday gift lists.

It is pop-culture arcania, embiggened.

The new "Simpsons World: The Ultimate Episode Guide (Seasons 1-20)" compiles facts about America's longest-running TV family with a vengeance: 1,200 pages and almost 9 pounds distilled from more than 8,000 minutes of creamy television goodness.

What's the name of the town recycling center on the enduring Fox series? Uriah's Heap. Who was Sideshow Bob's cellmate? Snake. What was the first blackboard gag? "I will not waste chalk."

You could craft a similar joke about this episode-by-episode compendium, arguing that, here, it's ink being wasted, and on a program whose moment has passed. What is a two-decade-old broadcast-television series if not an institution, like "60 Minutes" or "Meet the Press"? What is the Internet if not a place for endless data compilation at virtually no cost, in dollars or wood pulp?

But "The Simpsons" is, still, exceptionally well-crafted comedy, even if it long ago lost the excitement of being new. And a book retains, still, that sense of authority, especially when it is a book officially sanctioned. The amateur efforts online — notably The Simpsons Archive (snpp.com/episodeguide.html) and epguides.com/simpsons — offer similar and sometimes more detail but with more of a home-brewed feel, and some peter out in later seasons.

"Feel free to peruse this book while watching reruns of the show for the 30th time, but whatever you do, try not to think of your fleeting youth," says creator Matt Groening in the introduction, the one bit that isn't all details.

Besides, a book is a sort of ultimate wireless gadget. This one would crash only if plate glass were involved. And at a $150 list price ($90 via Web booksellers), it costs about as much as an iPod.

"Simpsons World" is, truth be told, nearly as overwhelming as it is impressive, like a baseball abstract but with oddly shaped yellow people as the players, and snappy lines as the statistics.

What's so dizzying is not just the small print and vibrant colors adorning each regular episode's two-page spread. It's the astonishing rush of detail and the realization that, yes, there are very many people who will care.

This is a show written by obsessives, for obsessives, people who pride themselves on knowing that $486.52 is how much baby Maggie cost when she was accidentally scanned at the grocery store.

Around and amid the episode listings (title, credits, airdate, key points, guest voices, things you'd have to hit pause to catch), there are more: All of Homer's "D'oh!" utterances, explained (plus the confirmation that "d'oh" is the official spelling). All the couch gags and blackboard gags. All the times Homer, in that salivating, always hungry tone, said, "Mmmm ... (something)."

And, joy of ultimate-fan joys, an index — a seemingly very good one.

This would be perfect bathroom reading if it weren't so darn heavy.

Make that: perfect bathroom reading, if your bathroom is so formal as to contain a lectern.

Then again, if you're the person for whom this book is designed, building for it a stand or a case or a special corner shrine, with spotlight and magnifying glass and white gloves to keep its pages clean, doesn't seem so unlikely an idea.

Kindle copies not available.

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