Saturday, February 23, 2008


Going Bananas

If I may suggest a chaser to the Bookseller's shot of strange titles: check out this fine New Zealand site on bizarre books of the Antipodes.

Courtesy of the 1975 Australian Banana Growers Council, it's:

Just how bold should you be? Well, um...

Not bold enough for you? Then maybe you also need....

An actual sentence: "With new-found knowledge and skills in mitt construction, you'll shake your fist at cruel fate and lift a searing pot with impunity. Yes, really!"

Yes... really!


Your Cheese Problems Have Been Solved!


Yes, it's that time again: the Bookseller has its annual competition for the oddest book title of 2007. Though I have to say, I actually preferred the also-rans to their shortlist. Judge for yourself:

I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen
How to Write a How to Write Book
Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues
Cheese Problems Solved
If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs
People who Mattered in Southend and Beyond: From King Canute to Dr Feelgood

Horace Bent, The Bookseller diarist and custodian of the Diagram Prize, said... "I must pay homage to those books that narrowly missed out on a shortlist place. These were, in no particular order: Drawing and Painting the Undead; Stafford Pageant: The Exciting Innovative Years 1901–1952; and Tiles of the Unexpected: A Study of Six Miles of Geometric Tile Patterns on the London Underground. All sound like they are positively thrilling reads, and I do hope that the authors will try again next year. Honourable mention should also go to two titles that were ruled out because they were published too long ago: an unlikely-sounding HR manual called Squid Recruitment Dynamics, and the fascinating anthropological tome Glory Remembered: Wooden Headgear of Alaska Sea Hunters.

I love the sheer anorak-acity of Tiles of the Unexpected, and was rewarded with finding precisely one Amazon UK review on it -- five stars -- which notes: "This is without question the definitive book on the subject of the Edwardian tile designs of London's Underground."

I'm sure it is.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


Bullet Train Reading

Yesterday's Asashi Shimbun reports that now bricks and mortar bookstores in Japan are also feeling the bite of online sales, and in desperation are turning to previously frowned-upon practice of mixing used books into their stock:

Futaba Tosho, based in Hiroshima, was the first chain seller of new titles to enter the used-book business.... The branch the company opened last spring inside JR Hiroshima Station is crowded with company employees on business trips. Many sell business books that they just read on the bullet train. The store, which carries about 80,000 secondhand books, fine-tunes its offerings to fit its location, a move that also increases sales of new titles.

Behind the expansion of the used-book business are the financial woes of stores selling new titles. A bookstore's percentage of net profit is less than 1 percent, and as the market has shrunk since the mid-1990s, bookstores have disappeared one after another. According to Tokyo-based publishing company Arumedia, there were around 17,000 bookstores nationwide as of May 1, 2007, down 15 percent from 2002.

Book Off, which offers books at low prices, and online retailers such as Amazon hurt other stores that sell new books. The move to deal in secondhand books could be a desperate measure to try to draw in customers.

(Tip of the hat to Lit Saloon)

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Pen Scratch Fever

Am I the last -- or the first? -- to discover that Ted Nugent writes a weekly column in a Waco, Texas newspaper?

The best part: an Onion-worthy previous columns listing....


The Art of Editing

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Book Cover of the Week

From the eBay book mines, it's...



A new entry to add to my Believer article last year on literary namejacking: this time the victim is an Independent of London journalist:
It arrived for me in Beirut under plain cover, a brown envelope containing a small, glossy paperback in Arabic, accompanied by a note from an Egyptian friend. "Robert!" it began. "Did you really write this?"

The front cover bore a photograph of Saddam Hussein in the dock in Baghdad, the left side of his head in colour, the right side bleached out, wearing a black sports jacket but with no tie, holding a Koran in his right hand. "Saddam Hussein," the cover said in huge letters. "From Birth to Martyrdom." And then there was the author's name – in beautiful, calligraphic typeface and in gold in the top, right-hand corner. "By Robert Fisk."....

The difference is that, this time, the "author" decided to actually track his forger down. It's a fascinating read -- I won't give away the ending, but here's a sample:
Only one thing mattered now. Number 45 Al-Batal Ahmed Abdul-Aziz Street, the local Mgboulli bookshop. And there it was, its window packed with paperbacks, the "G" and "U" of Mgboulli having long ago fallen to the pavement.

There was a slim, cigarette-smoking Egyptian in a yellow smoking jacket with black velvet lapels blocking the doorway. "I want to buy a book," I said softly, the winning smile – I'm afraid – of an undercover policeman suffusing my face. There were two tough, beefy men inside, shop assistants as you've never seen them before. I asked for a well-known volume on the life of Saddam Hussein.

"By Robert Fisk?" I was asked.

"Why yes, the very one!"

I followed one of the beefy men upstairs to the "Saddam Hussein biography" section. At which point, he darted back downstairs and retrieved the book from a secret pile behind the counter. "Thirty Egyptian pounds," he said. I paid. Yes, I paid the equivalent of £2.86 for a book with my name on it which I never wrote...

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