11 Mental Floss Contributors Who Wrote Great Books
The writers who fill the pages of Mental Floss have a penchant for writing books. (After all, a man cannot live on blogs alone.) Here are eleven of my Flossy favorites and their most recent books!
1. John Green - The Fault in Our Stars
John Green wrote for Mental Floss in the mid-2000s, before becoming a bestselling (and Printz Award winning) author of Young Adult fiction. (A few of his old blog posts are still kicking around here too.) John's most recent novel is The Fault in Our Stars, a story of life, death, love, and reclusive novelists. John signed all 150,000 copies of the first edition of the book, single-handedly beating every other author on this list in the book-signing department. I hear that single hand kinda hurt afterwards.
On Jeopardy! last week, John's book was a clue. See above -- and yes, she got it right.
2. Ransom Riggs - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ransom has written a bunch of books, including contributing to the Mental Floss: Scatterbrained trivia collection (along with John Green and others). But his breakout hit was 2011's Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, a book combining his love of found photography and haunting tales. Ransom's Miss P. topped the bestseller list alongside John Green's latest novel in 2012. And yeah, Ransom was also a clue on Jeopardy. This happened:
3. Kathy Benjamin - Funerals to Die For
Kathy has contributed loads of articles to the Mental Floss canon, including my favorite bit of bizarro trivia, 5 Crazy Ways People Amused Themselves Before Television. Her new book Funerals to Die For: The Craziest, Creepiest, and Most Bizarre Funeral Traditions and Practices Ever is coming in April. Here are just a few of the amazing funerary facts we can look forward to:
- The remains of a loved one can be launched into deep space for only $1,000.
- In Taiwan, strippers are hired to entertain funeral guests throughout the ceremony.
- Undertakers for the Tongan royal family weren't allowed to use their hands for 100 days after preparing a king's body.
- In the late 1800s, New Englanders would gulp down a cocktail of water and their family member's ashes in order to keep them from returning as vampires.
4. Maggie Koerth-Baker - Before the Lights Go Out
Maggie Koerth-Baker has written for the Mental Floss blog and the magazine for years. These days she's the science editor at BoingBoing and writes a column for The New York Times Magazine. In 2012, her book Before the Lights Go Out: Conquering the Energy Crisis Before It Conquers Us tackled the complex problems of America's energy future. And she got a hell of a blurb from Mary Roach:
"With spark and brilliance, Maggie Koerth-Baker reveals the thrumming, secretive inner workings of the U.S. energy grid. The wizard behind the curtain turns out to be a bunch of guys in light blue dress shirts, drinking RC Cola and sweating out a surplus that's threatening to crash the western seaboard. Using the raw resources of carefully gathered facts and years of experience, Koerth-Baker builds a narrative that flows and illuminates like the river of electrons that I now understand to be electricity. In her capable and stylish telling, energy isn't just policy and data; it's people and history, happenstance and compromise. It's a fine, cracking read."
—Mary Roach, author of Stiff and Packing for Mars
5. A.J. Jacobs - Drop Dead Healthy
A.J. Jacobs has contributed to Mental Floss magazine for years. He's also written a string of books based on lifestyle experimentation; in The Year of Living Biblically he tried to follow all the commandments in the Bible (it gets complicated); in The Know-It-All he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in one year (and learned a lot, as you'd imagine -- much of this was also shared in a column he wrote for the magazine). His most recent book is Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection, chronicling two years spent trying to maximize his health through various diets, workout regimens, and even pills. We liked it so much, we posted a long excerpt last April. And here's a glamor shot of AJ pumping iron (photo by Michael Cogliantry):
6. David K. Israel - Behind Everyman
In 2005, David K. Israel unleashed Behind Everyman: A Novel for Guys and the Women Who Rescue Them. B.E. is written in the second-person, so it makes for an unconventional (and engagingly urgent) read. Here's a sample from the beginning:
How to Begin a Screenplay
Start by getting a liberal arts degree from a college like Penn State--or any such similar school where the emphasis of study is firmly placed on fraternal life and sporting events. Because you'll have spent your eight semesters tottering through various degrees of inebriation, upon graduation you'll have little to no idea what to do with your degree. After a few minutes of contemplation, decide to do what everyone else does--move to New York City and take a job in advertising, marketing, or PR.
Your first few months in the city will be overwhelming. Adjusting to life in an apartment so tiny you can touch all four walls simultaneously won't be easy. Throw in a bipolar German roommate named Ulf, who requests the place to himself each and every Wednesday and Sunday evening so he can geshlugen with his girlfriend, Nanette, and you'll begin to wonder if you should have thought twice about moving to Manhattan.
You will buy an autographed copy from David. You will read it cover to cover. You will wonder why more books are not written in the second-person.
7. Arika Okrent - In the Land of Invented Languages
Arika Okrent is our resident linguist; her posts about language have been topping the charts lately here on Mental Floss. Back in 2009, she wrote the book on invented languages -- and we're not just talking Klingon (though, yes, she speaks Klingon and it does come up in the book). Arika's book In the Land of Invented Languages: Esperanto Rock Stars, Klingon Poets, Loglan Lovers, and the Mad Dreamers Who Tried to Build A Perfect Language explores the history of the nine hundred-ish invented languages humans have constructed; these languages and their histories are often poignant and sometimes downright batty. Arika's Wikipedia entry is, appropriately, also available in Esperanto.
Here's a snippet from the beginning of In the Land of Invented Languages:
Klingon speakers, those who have devoted themselves to the study of a language invented for the Star Trek franchise, inhabit the lowest possible rung on the geek ladder. Dungeons & Dragons players, ham radio operators, robot engineers, computer programmers, comic book collectors – they all look down on Klingon speakers. Even the most ardent Star Trek fanatics, the Trekkies, who dress up in costume every day, who can recite scripts of entire episodes, who collect Star Trek paraphernalia with mad devotion, consider Klingon speakers beneath them. When a discussion of Klingon appeared on Slashdot.org – the website billed as “News for Nerds,” the topic inspired comments like, “I’m sorry but it’s people like this that give science fiction a bad name.” Another said that Klingon speakers “provide excellent reasons for forced sterilization. Then again being able to speak Klingon pretty much does this without surgery.”
Mark Shoulson, who has a wife and two children, doesn’t enjoy being talked about this way. “It’s okay to laugh about it, because it’s funny. It’s legitimate to laugh. Klingon has entertainment as part of its face value. But I do get annoyed at some of the ruder stuff.” Mark was my unofficial guide to the world of Klingon. When I met him, we lived in the same New Jersey town. I discovered this browsing the Internet, where I also found that he was assistant director of the Klingon Language Institute (KLI) and editor of the Klingon translation of Hamlet. I wrote him, and he emailed me back the same day, saying he was so excited by the prospect of another Klingon speaker so close by that he didn’t even finish reading my message before he responded.
Another reason you want to read this book: chapter 11 is titled "A Nudist, a Gay Ornithologist, a Railroad Enthusiast and a Punk Cannabis Smoker Walk into a Bar...." Yes. This.
8. Chris Higgins - The Blogger Abides
Yes, folks, I wrote a book too! And it was edited by Adriene Crezo, plus a foreword by Ransom Riggs -- an extremely Flossy affair. The Blogger Abides: A Practical Guide to Writing Well and Not Starving is a chronicle of everything I've learned as a writer. For the past six years I've written for Mental Floss every day online, in print on occasion, and for outlets like This American Life, The Atlantic, and the hard-to-refer-to magazine The Magazine. I've been freelancing for two decades now, as my first magazine cover story was published way back in 1992. In this book, I explain how I have managed not to starve to death, and I pull back the curtain a bit on what it's like to be a working writer. If you want to write for a living (or simply write better), you should buy it. It also makes a great gift.*
* = Statement is mandated under Professional Authors Guild of America rules, subsection 47(ii), sub-subsection "Self Promotion 101." Statement is not meant to indicate actual quality of book as gift.
9. & 10. Sandy Wood and Kara Kovalchik - Mental Floss Trivia
Sandy and Kara are staples of the Floss family, providing puzzles (Sandy writes the daily Brain Game), tracking trivia (Kara writes all kinds of awesome stuff), designing games, and even writing the insanely popular Quarter Backs Quiz. They've been in the trivia business for over two decades, and have served as research editors for Mental Floss magazine since 2002. Their fifth (!) book of trivia is here, and it's hefty -- over 800 pages of tasty trivia and quizzes. Pick up mental_floss Trivia: Brisk Refreshing Facts Without the Ice Cream Headache! to satisfy your trivia sweet tooth.
11. D.B. Grady - The Command
D.B. Grady is a master of lists, covering a diverse array of topics from fictional space travel to weird nicknames of spy agency headquarters. He's also a former U.S. Army paratrooper and veteran of Afghanistan. D.B. has coauthored two books with Marc Ambinder; the first is the Kindle Single The Command: Deep Inside the President's Secret Army. Coming this April is Deep State: Inside the Government Secrecy Industry. When he's not writing lists for Mental Floss, D.B. is a correspondent for the Atlantic and maintains a shockingly comprehensive bibliography.
What About the Rest?
According to my research, there are at least six authors I've left out of this list -- that I know of. Stay tuned for a followup post plugging their books! (Or, heck, plug 'em in the comments. They all make great gifts.)