Strangeness in the Stacks

cover image of bizarre booksOne of the best things about working in a big library that has been around for a century or so is all the odd and curious old titles one stumbles over in our own vast collection. If you want a sense of what I’m talking about, check out Russell Ash & Brian Lake’s Bizarre Books: A Compendium of Classic Oddities. Here you will find such deathless and unintentionally funny titles as Scouts in Bondage by Geoffrey Prout, A Glowing and Graphic Description of the Great Hole by Mrs. D.U.C. and The Romance of Proctology by Charles Elton Blanchard. What a wonderful world in which titles like Sarah Pomeroy’s Little Known Sisters of Well Known Men, Ray Huang’s 1587: A Year of No Signficance or Ethel Brilliana Tweedie’s My Tablecloths see the light of day. What ardor must have possesed the creators of Indexers and Indexing in Fact and Fiction, An Annotated Bibliography of Evaporation, or Bold Musings; being an attempt to create fundamental changes in public opinion and to help emancipate thought from the thraldom of foolish time honoured tyrant customs; – written, out compliment to the subject, in lines of ten syllables, and in plain language. With an appendix of choice quotations. My stepfather picked up Bizarre Books while visiting our house recently, and spent the rest of the evening pretty much in stitches — I don’t think I’ve ever seen him laugh so much. Fortunately for all of us, a fresh flow of freakish literature is arriving on shelves continually, and the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year has been giving them their due for thirty years now.

3 thoughts on “Strangeness in the Stacks”

  1. Great post! It’s certainly true that browsing the stacks will often yield serendipitous finds. There really is a book on practically everything. I recently read a review of a book about the history of toothpicks, “The Toothpick: technology and culture” by Henry Petroski. Lest you think there might not be a lot to write about this little object, the book is 443 pages long. Lest you think there might not be a lot of interest in the topic, there are currently 5 holds on this title. Something for everyone!

  2. I got sidetracked by the book cover for “Knitting with Dog Hair” included with this post. Is this for real? I fear it is, as I heard that Martha Stewart has her chow’s fur spun into some fiber/yarn thing for knitting. I already feel like I wear my hound every day …

  3. I am fond of the recent(?) trend of delightfully absurd fiction titles that pay homage to the bizarre nonfiction titles on our shelves. I just finished “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves” by Karen Russell. Other titles that come to mind are “A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian” by Marina Lewycka and “The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs” by Alexander McCall Smith.

    McSweeney’s always seems to come up with interesting for their compilations, notably “Created in Darkness by Troubled Americans” and “Mountain Man Dance Moves”.

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