Mike’s written his fair share of books and papers on unusual topics, but even his most obscure efforts aren’t quite so peculiar as those featured among the annual nominations for the Diagram Prize, awarded annually by The Bookseller to the book with the oddest tile of the year. Other weird book titles have been collected in Russell Ash’s and Brian Lake’s classic compilation, Bizarre Books, and from among the stranger entries in the 360-volume British Library Catalogue of Printed Books to 1975, as culled by Paul Sieveking of the Fortean Times.
In a spirit of inclusiveness, we asked Mike for his own selection of the 20 weirdest books of all time, cherrypicked from all three sources. Here, with annotations where appropriate, is the countdown of his choices.
20. Laura Martin, The Art and Craft of Pounding Flowers: No Paint, No Ink, Just a Hammer! (Emmaus, PA, 2003)
The blurb reads: ‘There's not much equipment involved in making a beautiful botanical impression - basically all you need are a hammer and a flower!’
19. Phil Richards and John J Banigan, How To Abandon Ship (New York, 1942)
A portion of the advice revolves around the vital necessity of stopping, whenever possible, to grab large quantities of fags. Says one grateful reader - Eugene Schaflin, second engineer of the torpedoed tanker Charles Pratt - ‘Luckily we thought of cigarettes and grabbed cartons before we jumped into the boats. I think that saved some of us from going mad later.’
18. E. Mackerchar, The Romance of Leprosy (London, 1949)
Narrowly beats out the competing, and almost equally compelling, On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers, thanks largely to the insane optimism of its title.
17. RC Hutchinson, Food For Survival After A Disaster [with plates]. Melbourne, 1959.
16. David Ingliss, A Sociological History of Excretory Experience (Lewiston, NY, 2001)
‘This study illustrates how it was the shifting relationships between the aristocracy, bourgeoisie and working classes over several centuries which were greatly responsible for the ways in which we defecate and view human wastes today.’ Subtitled ‘Defecatory Manners and Toiletry Technologies.’
15. Kaz Cooke, Living With Crazy Buttocks (Ringwood, Victoria, 2001)
14. AJ Bethell, From Cleopatra to Christ, Arguing that the Former was the Latter’s Mother (London: 4 vols, 1911)
I mentioned this weird book - actually a manuscript deposited at the British Library - in a letter published years ago in the Daily Mail, which had been in search of odd book titles. It was with some surprise that I recently learned that the writer Ralph Ellis credits me as the inspiration for his recently-published Scota: Queen Of Scots, a new study of Bethell’s evidence, dissenting from many of his predecessor’s conclusions but nonetheless subtitled ‘Jesus Was the Great Grandson of Cleopatra’.
13. Larkin Brand, Learn To Croon (London, 1936)
12. Marion Fox, The Supernatural History of Worms (London, 1931)
A cynic might suspect the book is actually a study of the German town of Worms, but I prefer to imagine it as the classic of invertebrate parapsychology.
11 & 10 Lewis Omer, Hand Grenade Throwing as a College Sport (Chicago 1918) and Geoffrey Howson, A Handbook for the Limbless (London, 1922)
Both these titles are products, in their own way, of the Great War. Although some sources state that the British Library's copy of Omer’s book was regrettably ‘destroyed by bombing’ during World War II, it’s still listed in the catalogue.
9. Désiré Tits, La Formation de la Jeunesse (Brussels, 1945)
For me, it’s the accents on the author’s name that somehow act to make this book a classic.
8. Clifford Collinson, Life and Laughter 'Midst the Cannibals (London 1926)
7. Anne Ortlund, Children Are Wet Cement (Grand Rapids, MI, 1981)
Won the 1982 Christy Award as ‘Best Marriage/Family Book of the Year’.
6. Calamus Kurrens, Some Advice to the People! Be Not Conceited; Beware of Humbugs; Hate Cant; Restrain Your Tongues; Amend Your Ways; and Hang Together! With Sundry Other Odds and Ends of Counsel, Loosely Appended to the Second Edition of “My Dog Bruce”; in Many Respects a Very Irregular Poem (London, 1847)
5. Henry T Butlin, On Cancer of the Scrotum in Chimney Sweeps and Others, British Medical Journal vol.1 (1892)
Includes a definitive and challenging section on ‘Why foreign chimney sweeps do not suffer from scrotal cancer’.
4. Jacki Pritchard, The Abuse of Elderly People: A Handbook for Professionals (London, 1992)
The second edition of this leading textbook was unsurprisingly retitled ‘A Training Manual for Detection and Prevention.’
3. Reginald Ruggles Gates and PN Bhaduri, The Inheritance of Hairy Ear Rims (Edinburgh nd c.1961)
2. Captain John Trimmer, How To Avoid Huge Ships (Centreville, MD, 1983)
From the jacket text: ‘You are the owner-captain of a pleasure boat motoring across the bay with your family and a few friends one balmy summer evening... Have you ever wondered what action you should take to keep clear of that fast-approaching containership?’ The paperback edition bears the subtitle: ‘Or, I Never Met A Ship I Liked’.
1. Robert Branch, So Your Wife Came Home Speaking in Tongues? So Did Mine! (Old Tappan, NJ, 1973)
The tender story of how a Christian fundamentalist couple overcame the unexpected intrusion of glossolalia into their lives to forge closer bonds with the Lord.
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