Weird Books

Recently I found myself reading a book called The Romance of the Shoe. Not a foot fetishist’s guide, but an actual history of shoes and shoemakers. (History research – don’t ask.) It’s not the most exciting book in the world, but it was written by a true monomaniac. Even if I wasn’t irresistibly enthralled by the romance of shoes, the author certainly was. Yet for some inexplicable reason, I found my mind wandering.

Somehow (can’t imagine why) I was led to a rumination about eccentrics who write books (and get published!) and the odd subjects they write about. In the course of my research I’ve accidentally bumped into quite a few. But that was just a matter of chance. If you were curious, exactly how would you find other works like these?

God bless the internet. I now know of a rich source of information on such books.

I buy most of my used books through a website called AbeBooks. They have a marvelous department on their site called the Weird Book Room. I recommend it as being wildly entertaining, if rather disturbing. (I promise you all of those listed below are genuine titles of real books. That disclaimer may seem superfluous, but read on.)

First of all, you find an amazing number of what I take to be self-help books. I say, “I take to be,” because it’s hard to be certain. What else do you make of titles like How to Live with an Idiot? How about Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality? Bar Mitzvah Disco? Paint It Black: A Guide To Gothic Homemaking? Then there’s the ever popular How to Make Love While Conscious.

Now just take a moment to reread that list. One is reminded of the line from the Psalms about how “we are fearfully and wonderfully made.” Exactly what sort of species do we belong to that finds itself needing that set of titles?

But keep going. You’ve hardly begun mining the gold here. You will also find numbers of arcane books on subjects no sane person could possibly care about, like the Dictionary of Pipe Organ Stops, An Intellectual History of Cannibalism, The Invention of Curried Sausage, and A Popular History of British Seaweeds. (It’s amazing how many books there are with the word “Popular” on subjects where it couldn’t possibly be true.)

Obviously, most of these last are the sorts of books that make you lean back in your chair and comfortably (and smugly) wonder at the remarkable number of loonies there are in the world. We know these people. They are total nerds with too much time on their hands and no social skills. They are harmless (unless you share a cubicle with one) and you are perfectly happy to leave them to their lonely obsessions.

There are others on the list, though, that breed a certain feeling of unease. Exactly how are we supposed to feel about someone who writes Crafting with Cat Hair, Toilet Paper Origami, or How to Teach Physics to Your Dog? At this point you might find yourself shifting in that chair, vaguely uncomfortable. This is beyond mere nerd-dom. These people are a bit cracked.

But wait. There’s more.

How would you like to discover that you are living next door to the person who wrote The Practical Pyromaniac or perhaps How to Survive a Robot Uprising: Tips on Defending Yourself Against the Coming Rebellion? Speaking personally, these seem more than a little disturbing and distinctly anti-social. [Although if you really want to spend some quality time perusing those sorts of books, I recommend browsing the book tables at your nearest gun show. Now that is frightening. It’s almost a truism that gun show aisles are crowded with the sorts of people that you’d want a gun to protect yourself from. …Maybe it’s a marketing ploy.]

Then there are eyew books. For sheer pucker factor, how do you feel about Electricity in Gynecology or The Romance of Proctology? Nearby you’ll find the post-apocalyptic The Radiation Recipe Book. (I find it deeply disturbing that both of the last have a note telling us that they are currently sold out.)

Although you might not think so, some of the books on the list are clearly aimed at children. Exactly what kind of children, I’d rather not contemplate. You might give a fairly normal little boy a book called All About Scabs, but to what sort of child is your heart so weirdly warmed that you present them with the Gangsta Rap Coloring Book?

This site presents you with an odd spectrum of a very odd species: us. I found myself trying to imagine (with some trepidation) exactly what kind of person would write such books. More disturbing is the question of who would read such books. Try to imagine, then, my feelings on discovering that I not only own one of their books, I actually paid for it.

My all-time favorite, though, is not one I own. And I can’t tell whether it is aimed at kids or not. Maybe it’s for “kids of all ages.” But really, in what sort of a Woody Allen script do you find some nebbish being proudly presented with a copy of The Pop-Up Book of Phobias?

 

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