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The Man Who Ate the 747

The Man Who Ate the 747

3.7 57
by Ben Sherwood, David Schramm (Read by)

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This is the story of the greatest love, ever....J. J. Smith, Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records, is an ordinary man searching for the extraordinary. J.J. has clocked the world’s longest continuous kiss. He has verified the lengthiest single unbroken apple peel. He has tasted the world’s largest menu item. But J.J. has never witnessed great love.


This is the story of the greatest love, ever....J. J. Smith, Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records, is an ordinary man searching for the extraordinary. J.J. has clocked the world’s longest continuous kiss. He has verified the lengthiest single unbroken apple peel. He has tasted the world’s largest menu item. But J.J. has never witnessed great love.

That is, until he comes to a tiny town in the American heartland. Here J.J. discovers a world record attempt like no other. Piece by piece, a farmer is eating a Boeing 747 to prove his love for a woman. But when J.J. unexpectedly falls in love with the same woman, a woman as outwardly cynical as he is, J.J. learns why records are made to be broken...and why the greatest wonders in life can never be measured.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Some send candy and flowers. Some write love letters and ballads. And some will eat a Boeing 747 to prove their love for a woman, as in this charming debut. Ben Sherwood, a senior producer of NBC Nightly News, proves he can make news of his own in a wildly inventive audiobook that may just as likely warm your heart as give you heartburn, The Man Who Ate the 747.

"This is the story of the greatest love, ever," begins our hero, J. J. Smith -- an unremarkable man and an unforgettable narrator, the Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records. He has traveled the world verifying and recording some of the most bizarre superlatives imaginable, feats of the body and freaks of nature through which people hope to be immortalized by being the fastest, the most, the greatest. Quoting obsessively from The Book of Records (he has witnessed attempts to break the record for the world's longest kiss -- 30 hours and 45 minutes), J. J. proclaims all matters of the heart to be the product of dopamine, pheromones, and our innate response to symmetrical features. But an anonymous letter from America's heartland leads him to a place where he must throw out the book of everything he thought he knew about love.

In a world where reality TV floods the media with high-speed car chases and animal attacks, the world's fastest snail can hardly compete, and J. J. must find a real humdinger of a record breaker quickly, or he'll fast become the world's most unemployed Keeper of the Records. Salvation appears in Superior, Nebraska, where he finds a superlative unlike any he's witnessed before -- a quiet, heartsick farmer, Wally Chubb, is eating an entire Boeing 747 airplane to show his lifelong unspoken love for Willa Wyatt, who writes, edits, and prints the town's newspaper. After J. J. convinces Wally that the recognition of a world record will help him win the heart of Willa, the world turns its attention to this humble man as he, aided by a metal-grinding contraption created by his best friend, Nate, consumes a daily diet supplemented with pureed plane parts. As Wally eats his way to unlikely fame, J. J. finds himself completely enamored of Willa -- but when the Book of Records disqualifies the attempt under its rules against "gluttony," the Keeper of Records soon finds there is no category for the sharpest turn his life has taken thus far.

Actor David Schramm, who appeared in NBC's Wings for eight seasons before acting in the Roundabout's Tony-nominated revival of London Assurance, delivers a record-breaking performance, using playful voices that make the listening experience as comical and entertaining as it is moving and profound. And in The Man Who Ate the 747, Ben Sherwood makes a debut that is second to none, showing us that the terrain of the heart -- while it cannot be quantified in conventional superlatives -- still holds immeasurable wonders. (Elise Vogel)

Elise Vogel is a freelance writer living in New York City.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
HIntroduced as "the story of the greatest love, ever," by its world-record verifier of a hero, this winsome, perceptive and often hilarious comedy is not sparing in its deployment of superlatives. J.J. Smith, keeper of the records for the Guinness-clone Book of Records, has witnessed and verified the world's longest apple peel, the longest flight of a champagne cork, the longest fingernails, the longest hiccup attack. But as record book sales dwindle in the face of TV's Scariest Police Chases and When Animals Attack, J.J. is ordered to come up with a news-making world record--or else. Just in time, the dapper, fact-loving New Yorker receives an anonymous tip from Superior, Neb., and sets out for that lonely, windswept town. There, a lumbering introvert farmer, Wally Chubb, is on a mission to prove his love for Superior's sassy newspaper editor, Willa Wyatt. His plan: to consume an entire Boeing 747, ground into grit. The whole town knows of Wally's eccentric commitment, but Willa, a blue jeans-clad blonde who longs for a more "worldly" love, does not have the heart to tell him to stop. Between bites of peanut butter/wing torsion box sandwiches and sips of vanilla fan-blade assembly milkshakes, Wally reluctantly agrees to allow J.J. to record his progress for the Book. Willa rails against the media circus J.J. brings to Superior, but she can't deny her attraction to the new man, and J.J. finds himself falling in love with Willa, too. Conflicts arise when Wally nears the indestructible, and possibly unconsumable black box; when the Book's editors enforce the "no gluttony records" rule; and when J.J. painfully realizes that his love for Willa threatens not only his job but Wally's heart as well. In telling his unlikely story, J.J. begs us to "believe it just a little." There's no question readers will join him in the faith. First-time novelist Sherwood, an NBC executive, has produced a heartwarming, gently humorous tale that could set records of its own. Major ad/promo; author tour; film rights sold to Bel Air Entertainment/Warner Bros. (Aug.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
John Smith is a Keeper of Records for the world-famous Book of Records. For the past 14 years, he has traveled the globe to verify records in innumerable categories, making his work the family that he does not have. When he gets news of a man in Superior, NE, who is eating a 747, he drives there to check it out. Although gluttony records have been banned by the Committee of The Book, Smith finds that the plane is being eaten for love and asks for special dispensation from the Committee. Wally Chubb's eating of the 747 is actually his latest and greatest attempt to get Willa Wyatt to fall in love with him--an attempt he started when he was ten. When Smith meets Willa, he forgets everything he thought he knew about love and soon realizes that in this category everyone sets his or her own record. Sherwood, senior producer for the NBC Nightly News, has written numerous articles as an investigative journalist. This novel confirms his ability to craft characters that live and breathe. This well-written debut is romantic, suspenseful, ridiculous, and, finally, satisfying. Recommended. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/00.]--Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Lib., Providence Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Sherwood's magical, quirky, and gorgeously written novel takes magical realism out of exotic locales and centers it right in America's heartland...nothing short of mesmerizing.
Entertainment Weekly
Kirkus Reviews
A clever, quirky, comic first novel about love and obsession, as seen through the eyes of a man who makes his living verifying world records. J.J. Smith, Keeper of the Records for The Book of Records, has spent most of his life traveling the world in search of those who are desperate enough for immortality to kiss nonstop for 30 hours and 45 minutes, swallow 13 raw eggs in a second, or make a continuous crawl of 31.5 miles. But lately things have gone sour for J.J., who has just been dumped by his girlfriend because he doesn't really know what love is, foolishly believing that it has everything to do with symmetrical faces, pheromones, and the sound of someone's voice. Also, J.J. is in danger of being put out to pasture because he's hit a particularly dry patch as far as records are concerned: his task now is to fine one worthy of notation in the book—and quickly. Going through his mail one day, he comes across a note claiming that in the tiny town of Superior, Nebraska, someone is "eating a 747, the airplane with a hump on top. Every day he eats some, no matter how bad it tastes. I sware.` When J.J. arrives in the heartland, he indeed finds Wally Chubb grinding up the 747 bit by bit and, yes, he's actually eating it. And the reason he's eating it is to demonstrate his undying, everlasting love for Willa Wyatt, who writes and edits the local newspaper. Willa is, in fact, a worthy inspiration for Wally's strange diet, so much so that J.J. also falls for her, while at the same time urging Wally to go for the record book so that his town may reap the economic benefits of his notoriety. Wonderfully wacky, wise, charming, and romantic satire, filled with lovablyeccentriccharacters who know the secret of true love.

From the Publisher
“Ben Sherwood is an amazing writer with the rare gift of evoking genuine emotion. The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is touching, wise, and full of hope, everything a wonderful novel should be. Read it – you’ll be glad you did.”
—Nicholas Sparks, bestselling author

“The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud is one of the most magical love stories I've ever read. In his wonderfully inventive way, Ben Sherwood has written a shining affirmation of life.”
— Sue Monk Kidd, author of The Secret Life of Bees

"Loved it, loved it, loved it!! Refreshingly romantic, dangerously good fun, hugely addictive. All too infrequently I pick up a book that is a pure pleasure to read….Intelligent, moving, and sweetly wise, Ben Sherwood is all set to find his way into the soft heart of American literature."
—Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"Sweet and inspirational.... [with] humor all his own."
—The Daily News (NY)

Product Details

Random House Audio Publishing Group
Publication date:
Edition description:
Unabridged, 4 cassettes, 7 hrs.
Product dimensions:
4.53(w) x 7.19(h) x 1.26(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the shadow of an ancient bridge, the young lovers leaned into each other with great resolve, lips clenched, arms interlocked. It was a determined kiss, neither soft nor sentimental. Stiff and clumsy, they could have been office colleagues stealing away for a moment on the easy banks of the Seine or students from a nearby ecole learning the steps of love.

Not far away, behind a red velvet rope, a noisy pack of photographers jockeyed with zoom lenses, capturing the embrace. Flashes strobed and video cameras rolled while the kissers clenched, unflinching. Behind them, on bleachers, several hundred observers shouted encouragement.

"Allez! Vive la France!" one young man cried.

"Courage!" a woman called.

From lamp posts on the Ile Saint-Louis, bright banners dangled. Remy Martin, Evian, Air France, Wrigley's--all proud corporate sponsors of the passion play. Men in natty suits surveyed the scene, pleased with the excellent turnout.

In the middle of this bustle, J.J. Smith sat calmly at the judge's table. He was 34 years old with wavy brown hair, a straight, well-proportioned nose, and an oval face, perhaps a bit soft at the edges. There was a certain authority about him. He wore a navy blazer with a gilded crest on the pocket, linen trousers, and sandy bucks. A closer inspection revealed a few frayed stitches on his shoulders, the hem of his jacket lining stuck together with Scotch tape, pants slightly rumpled, shoes a bit scuffed. He couldn't be bothered with clothes, really. There were more important matters on his mind. A thick black notebook lay open on the desk in front of him. He inspected the kissers, then checked the pages. So far, not a single violation of the official rules.

"Can I get monsieur anything?" a young woman said, batting eyelashes. She wore a flimsy sundress, and official credentials hung on a chain around her long neck. They were all so solicitous, the French staff. "Perhaps a glass of wine?"

"Non, merci," he said. A glass of wine would finish him off. He was an easy drunk. "Thanks. I've got everything I need."

"I'm here to help," she said with a smile. He watched her walk away, slender in the sun.

I'm here to help. Indeed. He mopped his forehead, sipped a bottle of cool spring water, and surveyed the Gallic crowd.

There was something about the kissing record that always turned out the hordes. Just one year earlier, in Tel Aviv, thousands watched Dror Orpaz and Karmit Tsubera shatter the record for continuous kissing. J.J. clocked every second of those 30 hours and 45 minutes in Rabin Square, then rushed by ambulance with the winners to Ichilov Hospital where they were treated for exhaustion and dehydration.

Kissing was an artless record, really. There was no skill involved. Success was more a function of endurance than romance, more stamina than passion. The basic rules were straightforward: lips locked at all times, contestants required to stand up, no rest or toilet breaks. A few additional regulations kept the competition stiff. Rule #4 was his favorite: "The couple must be awake at all times." Rule #7, though difficult to enforce, was tough on the weak-willed and small-bladdered: "Incontinence pads or adult diapers are not allowed."

But these logistical challenges were easily overcome. While the novices quit from hunger or thirst after the first eight or ten hours, savvy record seekers solved the nutritional problems with a straw, protein shakes, and Gatorade. Chafed lips, occasionally an issue, were soothed speedily with Chapstick.

The only truly vexing problem was wanting to kiss someone, anyone, for days, to be completely entwined, utterly entangled. He once knew a woman he loved that much and would have kissed that long. Emily was a travel agent he met at the sandwich shop near work. She was a few years older, sparkly and slim. Her mind vaulted from one random thought to another, impossible to follow, then arrived someplace original and logical after all. He liked the way she kissed, gently, exploring, taking every part of him into account.

"Kissing you is like kissing a country," she once told him in the doorway of the travel agency. "It's mysterious, like all the places you go and the people you meet."

When he proposed marriage, she accepted, but neither of them felt an urgent rush to the altar. Days, months, years went by as he chased records around the world. His trips grew longer, his devotion to The Book deepened. Then one morning, as he packed his roll-on suitcase, Emily's good-bye speech floated across the bedroom.

"You spend your life searching for greatness," Emily said, handing over the ring in the velvet box it came in. "You're reaching for things I can't give you and I don't want to spend my life not measuring up."

"But I love you," he said. "I really do." Her decision made no sense. By his count, their 4-year engagement hadn't even come close to the world record, 67 years, held by Octavio Guilen and Adriana Mart'nez of Mexico City.

Emily smiled, her lips a bit crooked. "You know everything about the fastest coconut tree climber and the biggest broccoli, but you don't know the first thing about love." She wiped a tear from her ocean-colored eyes. "That's the only kind of greatness that counts, and I hope you find it someday."

Had he loved her? Had she loved him? He left that day for Finland and the annual World Wife-Carrying Championships. As Imre Ambros of Estonia triumphed, dragging Annela Ojaste over the 771-foot obstacle course in 1 minute 41Ú2 seconds, J.J. began to question the nature of love entirely. The days passed and like a creeping frost, a numbness spread through his whole body.

"Three more minutes," a woman shouted. The huge Swatch digital chronometer flashed 30:42:01. The exhausted kissers held each other up, limbs shaking from exertion. An official passed them Evian with two straws. The woman sipped from the corner of her mouth, then threw the bottle on the ground, where it shattered on cobblestones.

This was crunch time, when the record would stand or fall. Three more minutes. With victory, there would be newspaper headlines, saturation television coverage, and J.J. would win a reprieve at headquarters. He was long overdue for a record. The last few verification trips hadn't gone well. In Germany last month, a yodeler achieved 21 tones in one second, but alas, the record was 22. And before that, an Australian podiatrist with a breathing disorder registered snoring levels of 92 decibels, but the world record was 93. Both failures were hardly his fault, but that wasn't the way the boss kept score.

If these two could keep it together for 90 more seconds, he would go home triumphant and relax for a while, catch up on paperwork, and read submissions. He would help crank out the next edition by June, then spend the last hot summer nights in the cheap seats at Yankee Stadium. Soon enough, fall would arrive, and before he knew it, Christmas. The years and seasons rushed by this way, marked by little else than the volumes of The Book on his shelf. Fourteen editions, fourteen years.

With 60 seconds left, the first ominous sign. The kissing couple began to sway. The man's legs wobbled, then his eyes rolled back in his head. His knees buckled. The woman strained to hold him up, her lips locked to his mouth. She clung desperately to his belt, as his body seemed to want to slide right through his pant legs onto the street. His head fell to one side, jaw slackened.

Sweaty and trembling, the woman readjusted, pressing her lips harder against his limp and flabby face. With one bloodshot eye, she checked the chronometer. Just 10 seconds to go. She kissed him furiously. Her body shook, and suddenly, her strength failed. He slithered through her arms to the ground, and she threw herself down on him. She squished her mouth against his, face contorted, kissing with all her might.

Ten feet away, J.J. reluctantly pressed the red button in front of him. The chronometer froze:


He rose to his feet, an ache in his stomach, and announced: "No record."

What People are Saying About This

Fannie Flagg
A delightful and surprising book from start to finish....Ben Sherwood is a modern-day mark Twain who writes of small-town America with love, affection and a definite twinkle in his eye.
— (Fannie Flagg, bestselling author of Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!)

Meet the Author

Ben Sherwood is a senior producer for "NBC Nightly News." He has written numerous articles as an investigative journalist. This is his first book written under his own name. He lives in New York City, where he is writing his second...

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Man Who Ate the 747 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 57 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
How far would you go for someone you loved? We've all heard people state that they'd lie or die for a loved one, but would you eat a Boeing 747 jet plane?

Such is the case for Wally Chubb, a man on a mission to garner the attention of Willa Wyatt, the town's newspaper editor. Wally has been in love with her ever since she was the only schoolmate to attend his tenth birthday party--and now that he wants her attention, wants her to see just exactly how far he'd go to gain her approval and admiration, a jumbo jet has fallen from the sky like manna from Heaven.

When J.J. Smith gets an anonymous letter summoning him to Superior , Nebraska , to meet a man attempting to eat a 747, he's not sure what to do. For The Keeper of the Records--the man in charge of verifying all records for The Book of Records (similar to The Guinness Book of World Records)--the thought that someone would attempt to eat an airplane is intriguing. It's been awhile since he's found a great record, and his boss is starting to intimate that after fourteen years, J.J. is burnt out.

But John Smith, a small-town boy who got out as soon as he could, measures his life by the records that he verifies. He's seen greatness a thousand times over, and in turn felt justified in living a life of little emotion, of little love. Until he pulls into Superior , Nebraska , and witnesses "the greatest love, ever."

THE MAN WHO ATE THE 747 is a testament not just to how far a person will go for someone they love, but how a town reacts to momentary greatness, how it recovers from loss, and how you can find love in the strangest places.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and if you did, too, I would recommend Ben Sherwood's second release, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF CHARLIE ST. CLOUD.
kodiakgirl More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful, delightful story that was a pleasure to read. The characters in the book are fully realized and we quickly know them very well. They are odd, quirky, loving small town people who are faced with the sudden attention of the world as the Man Who Ate the 747 finally makes news after years of it being the town secret. It is mostly about love, loyalty, and friendship. The lure of breaking an extraordinary world record in order to win love is breath-taking for those of us who value true love and wonder how far we might go to attain it. I love this book, have read it twice and think it would make such a good movie. I wish some one in Hollywood would take a look at it, it would be great! This book is light-hearted and an easy read, and by the end you will be wishing there was more to read. Couldn't put it down.
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I could not put this book down! It was inspiring and well written! When it was done i had wished there was more of the book to read. You should def buy this book great buy and hard to put down!!!!!
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This was a wonderful book to pass the weekend. I enjoyed getting to know these characters and so will you!
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SarahBearSK More than 1 year ago
I've been wanting to buy this book, but every Barnes and Noble store I wen't to didn't carry it. So I FINALLY bought a Nook, and this book was my first read. I absolutely LOVE this book and highly recommend!
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tst63 More than 1 year ago
I really like the way this author writes. He builds stories that are straight-forward, realistic and so sweet. He really gets inside his characters without being boring or sappy. His stories also have a subtle magical quality to them that just makes you feel good. If you're looking for an enjoyable, light but meaningful read, this is it!
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Ben Wagner More than 1 year ago
The Man Who Ate The 747 is a fantastic book! Hearts Will be stopped!!!!!
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