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39 Weird Books That Really Exist

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In 2014, the annual Diagram Prize for the oddest book title was awarded to How to Poo on a Date: The Lovers' Guide to Toilet Etiquette. The book defeated Are Trout South African? and The Origin of Feces. In 2015, Strangers Have the Best Candy took the honor. After you've picked those up, here are 39 other odd or oddly named books that would look great on your shelf.

1. FASHION CATS

This 160-page coffee table book compiles the masterpieces of Takako Iwasa, Japan’s #1 cat tailor, into a glossy collection of the finest feline fashion. Supermodel cats Prin and Koutaro don’t wear costumes (although a frog hat and bunny ears make appearances) so much as cat couture, from regal satin capes to striped newsboy caps and proper plaid ties. They even manage to wear Hello Kitty ears with dignity.

2. ANYBODY CAN BE COOL ... BUT AWESOME TAKES PRACTICE

Neither the title nor the cover make it immediately evident that Anybody Can Be Cool is a Christian devotional book for teens, which could be disappointing for unsuspecting readers hoping for a 12-step plan to awesome. The guy in the red-and-white knit sweater probably doesn’t need any tips, though.

3. BOMBPROOF YOUR HORSE

Although it’s true that horses spook easily, “bombproofing” sounds a bit drastic, doesn’t it? As if this book’s techniques aren’t enough for a worried horse owner, there’s a sequel entitled Better Than Bombproof: New Ways to Make Your Horse a Solid Citizen and Keep You Safe on the Ground, in the Arena, and on the Trail. If there’s ever a third book, it’ll have to contain no less than the secret to eternal equine life.

4. WHO CARES ABOUT ELDERLY PEOPLE?

Yep.

5. DOES GOD EVER SPEAK THROUGH CATS?

This is one of those pressing questions the Bible, the Torah, and the Qu’ran all neglected to answer.

6. HOW TO DISSAPPEAR COMPLETELY AND NEVER BE FOUND

This supposed handbook for those who really have something to hide features sections dedicated to procuring new identification papers, finding a job, “pseudocide,” and more, but it’s hard to take advice from an author who misspells “disappear” not once, but seven times. It’s also unfortunately almost 20 years out of date—avoiding paper trails are the least of a would-be disappearer’s worries these days.

7. SUN-BEAMS MAY BE EXTRACTED FROM CUCUMBERS, BUT THE PROCESS IS TEDIOUS

David Daggett’s 1799 Fourth of July oration is a Federalist response to Thomas Jefferson that presumably had little to do with cucumbers or sun-beams, which makes its extremely incongruous title all the more delightful.

8. HOW GREEN WERE THE NAZIS?: NATURE, ENVIRONMENT, AND NATION IN THE THIRD REICH 

Would Goebbels have driven a Prius? Did the Butcher of Lyon recycle his empty aluminum cans? Of all the adjectives one might associate with Hitler’s regime, “eco-friendly” is not one that immediately springs to mind.

9. HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK: DEFEND YOURSELF WHEN THE LAWN WARRIORS STRIKE (AND THEY WILL) 

Some say the world will end in fire, some say in garden gnomes. This is the book every survival-minded citizen needs to prepare for an apocalyptic vision more terrifying than zombies or aliens—because anything could be lurking behind those innocent expressions.

10. KNITTING WITH DOG HAIR: BETTER A SWEATER FROM A DOG YOU KNOW AND LOVE THAN FROM A SHEEP YOU'LL NEVER MEET

Come to think of it, scarves made of wool from some strange, anonymous sheep have always felt a bit impersonal.

11. HOW TO TEACH PHYSICS TO YOUR DOG

Therapy dogs can soothe survivors of traumatic events by their mere presence—an ability Chad Orzel seems to hope translates to teaching quantum mechanics to the non-physicists among us. Emmy, a German shepherd-mix who’s quick to catch on to abstract concepts, is an effective teaching tool for Orzel’s actual audience—humans—and she’s pretty cute to boot.

12. MANIFOLD DESTINY: THE ONE! THE ONLY! GUIDE TO COOKING ON YOUR CAR ENGINE!

We're not experts, but if your vintage car engine runs hot enough to cook a full-course meal, you might want to call a mechanic. If you’re lucky, maybe they’ll agree to be paid in side dishes.

13. ROYAL KNITS

Forget trying to cop Duchess Kate Middleton’s style with store-bought items. Instead, knit your own outfits worthy of Buckingham Palace. The book includes patterns for a yarn replica of the St. Edward’s Crown as well as an original design for a pair of slippers that look like Corgis, in a nod to the reigning monarch’s preference for the Welsh herd dogs. A guardsman’s iconic bearskin hat, however, might be beyond the book’s scope.

14. DATING FOR UNDER A DOLLAR: 301 IDEAS 

Don’t be so quick to label buyers of this book a cheap date. Keep in mind that Dating for Under a Dollar was published over a decade ago in 1999; adjusting for inflation, a dollar then was equivalent to a whopping $1.34 today. That’s more than enough to buy a candy bar or a small order of fast food fries, which sounds like a nifty date! A single dollar isn’t quite equal to the selling price of Blair Tolman’s book, but the extra few dollars would probably be worth it for 299 better frugal dating ideas than mine.

15. THE BEST FENCES

As the old proverb (sort of) goes, the best fences make the best neighbors. Never settle for less.

16. HOW TO LAND A TOP-PAYING PIEROGI MAKERS JOB 

Unemployment rates are high for everyone right now, dumpling chefs included. With no recipes, this “complete guide to opportunities” is only good for seasoned pierogi professionals.

17. TEACH YOUR WIFE TO BE A WIDOW

It’s best to be prepared.

18. TREAT YOUR OWN NECK

In the days before hypochondriacs could be satisfied (or spurred on) by a quick WebMD search for symptoms like “stiff elbow” or “sore ankles,” Spinal Publications New Zealand Ltd. and physical therapist Robin McKenzie released a handy paperback guide to self-care for all neck-related problems. Reviews of the book range from “highly recommend!” to a warning that some of the exercises might be “quite harmful” to those with pre-existing arthritis. Exercise caution when reading. 

19. BODY BUILDERS IN TUTUS

This is, unfortunately, not an illustrated coffee table book, but a cleverly titled collection of marketing advice essays. Well done, Philipp Lomboy: you sold us.

20. WHOSE BOTTOM IS THIS?

This concept was apparently so good that two different publishers have used it. The illustrated Whose Bottom Is This? is a hardcover lift-the-flap guessing game for children ages 1 to 3. Those same children can then graduate a few years later to Wayne Lynch’s photographic series of books, which include the posed posteriors of “hippos, rhinos, bighorn sheep, pin-tailed ducks, and more.” It might be good preparation for a child’s first field trip to the zoo, so long as someone teaches them what animals look like from the front as well.

21. THE LULL BEFORE DORKING

There’s no readily available information on this reprinted 1871 collection of British pamphlets, but the titular “dorking” might either refer to a market town just south of London, or to a breed of five-toed English domestic fowl. Feel free to leave your speculation as to what The Lull Before Dorking could possibly mean in the comments below.

22. THE NEW RADIATION RECIPE BOOK

To clarify: “Radiation” was a brand of automated gas cooker.

23. LIBERACE: YOUR PERSONAL FASHION CONSULTANT

Finally, there exists a practical guide for the style-challenged masses. Who wouldn’t want to mix sequins and fringe, stars and argyle, or knee socks and short-shorts like the world’s highest-paid entertainer?

24. GOBLINPROOFING ONE'S CHICKEN COOP

The Associated Press described this 2012 book as a “supernaturally tinged barnyard manual.” In addition to goblins, the guide also offers practical advice for warding off dwarves, brownies, and flower fairies.

25. HOW TO AVOID HUGE SHIPS

Originally published under the full title, How to Avoid Huge Ships, or: I Never Met a Ship I Liked, Captain John W. Trimmer’s how-to guide delivers readers exactly what it promises. Though it was named “worst book ever” by Publisher’s Weekly, it’s garnered quite a fan base on Amazon. One reviewer wrote: “I was jogging around the block when all of a sudden I was almost struck by a huge ship! Thankfully I had read How to Avoid Huge Ships. I have lived to tell the tale and now I only hope future generations read this lifesaver.”

26.  HIGHLIGHTS IN THE HISTORY OF CONCRETE

In this book author C.C. Stanley looks back through concrete’s riveting 7600-year history. Unfortunately you’ll have to look elsewhere for a comprehensive account; here he only hits the highlights.

 27.  THE JOY OF CHICKENS

A must-have for any chicken enthusiast.

28. ORAL SADISM AND THE VEGETARIAN PERSONALITY 

This book is an anthology of readings from the “Journal of Polymorphous Perversity.” It includes such hard-hitting psychiatric observations as, “One hundred percent of all dead patients showed a marked reluctance to pay their bills,” and “When Ms. Cinderella left her glass slipper behind at the stroke of midnight, she was clearly acting in a state of rebellion against the dictatorial regimentation of the domineering fairy godmother.” Thankfully, it’s all parody.

29.  LIVING WITH CRAZY BUTTOCKS

Though it sounds like a self-help book, Living with Crazy Buttocks is actually collection of humor pieces by Australian cartoonist Kaz Cooke. People living with literal crazy buttocks will have to look elsewhere for coping advice.

30.  THE DO-IT-YOURSELF LOBOTOMY: OPEN YOUR MIND TO GREATER CREATIVE THINKING 

When thinking of ways to improve your creative problem-solving capabilities and get ahead in the workplace, a lobotomy doesn’t usually top the list. Apparently the team behind this book thought the concept of a “do-it-yourself” one would have copies flying off the shelves.

31. CROCHETING ADVENTURES WITH HYPERBOLIC PLANES 

 

If you’ve ever wished there could be more complex geometry in your crocheting adventures, then this book is for you. It includes 200 photographs of comfy, colorful hyperbolic models with instructions on how to craft them.

32. THE BOOK OF MARMALADE: ITS ANTECEDENTS, ITS HISTORY, AND ITS ROLE IN THE WORLD TODAY 

Here is the be-all and end-all of comprehensive marmalade guides. One review from the Bristol Evening Post reads, “(C. Anne) Wilson has found out just about everything anyone could ever have wanted to know about the splendid preserve.”

33.  THE MADAM AS ENTREPRENEUR: CAREER MANAGEMENT IN HOUSE PROSTITUTION

This account follows one member of the world’s oldest profession from getting her start as a teenage to stepping down as a house madam in her forties. It’s part sociological analysis part business guide.

34. MANAGING A DENTAL PRACTICE: THE GENGHIS KHAN WAY

Genghis Khan was a busy guy, and he was never able to find time to open a dental practice in between building an empire. This book still suggests that dentists should be taking a page from his book.

35.  THE STRAY SHOPPING CARTS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: A GUIDE TO FIELD IDENTIFICATION

The book’s summary calls it, “A must-have for anyone with a passion for shopping carts and a love of the great outdoors.”

36. NATURAL BUST ENLARGEMENT WITH TOTAL POWER: HOW TO INCREASE THE OTHER 90% OF YOUR MIND TO INCREASE THE SIZE OF YOUR BREASTS

Instead of blowing thousands dollars on surgery, Dr. Donald L. Wilson suggests that increased breast size can be achieved through the power of mindful thinking.  The contents read more like soft-core erotic poetry than a self-help guide. One noteworthy line reads, "You look up at the sky, and you see a white cloud formation in the shape of your breasts which reminds you of how perfect your breasts can be."

37. COOKING WITH POO

The “Poo” in this title refers to world-renowned Thai chef Khun Poo.

38. PEOPLE WHO DON'T KNOW THEY'RE DEAD: HOW THEY ATTACH THEMSELVES TO UNSUSPECTING BYSTANDERS AND WAHT TO DO ABOUT IT

In this book, the author tells the story of his Uncle Wally and Aunt Ruth who counseled lost spirits that moved into bodies that didn’t belong to them. It’s full of practical information for both the living and the deceased.

39. STRANGERS HAVE THE BEST CANDY

Thankfully, this isn’t the title of a children’s book. Margaret Meps Schulte’s travelogue documents the interesting conversations she’s had with strangers over the years.

This story originally ran in March 2014.

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10 Facts About Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary
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October 16 is World Dictionary Day, which each year celebrates the birthday of the American lexicographer Noah Webster, who was born in Connecticut in 1758. Last year, Mental Floss marked the occasion with a list of facts about Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language—the enormous two-volume dictionary, published in 1828 when Webster was 70 years old, that established many of the differences that still divide American and British English to this day. But while Webster was America’s foremost lexicographer, on the other side of the Atlantic, Great Britain had Dr. Samuel Johnson.

Johnson—whose 308th birthday was marked with a Google Doodle in September—published the equally groundbreaking Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, three years before Webster was even born. Its influence was arguably just as great as that of Webster’s, and it remained the foremost dictionary of British English until the early 1900s when the very first installments of the Oxford English Dictionary began to appear.

So to mark this year’s Dictionary Day, here are 10 facts about Johnson’s monumental dictionary.

1. IT WASN’T THE FIRST DICTIONARY.

With more than 40,000 entries, Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language was certainly the largest dictionary in the history of the English language at the time but, despite popular opinion, it wasn’t the first. Early vocabularies and glossaries were being compiled as far back as the Old English period, when lists of words and their equivalents in languages like Latin and French first began to be used by scribes and translators. These were followed by educational word lists and then early bilingual dictionaries that began to emerge in the 16th century, which all paved the way for what is now considered the very first English dictionary: Robert Cawdrey’s Table Alphabeticall—in 1604.

2. SAMUEL JOHNSON BORROWED FROM THE DICTIONARIES THAT CAME BEFORE HIS.

In compiling his dictionary, Johnson drew on Nathan Bailey’s Dictionarium Britanicum, which had been published in 1730. (Ironically, a sequel to Bailey’s dictionary, A New Universal Etymological English Dictionary, was published in the same year as Johnson’s, and borrowed heavily from his work; its author, Joseph Nicoll Scott, even gave Johnson some credit for its publication.)

But just as Johnson had borrowed from Bailey and Scott had borrowed from Johnson, Bailey, too had borrowed from an earlier work—namely John Kersey’s Dictionarium Anglo-Britannicum (1708)—which was based in part on a technical vocabulary, John Harris’s Universal English Dictionary of Arts and Sciences. Lexicographic plagiarism was nothing new.

3. THE DICTIONARY WASN’T THE ONLY THING JOHNSON WROTE.

Although he’s best remembered as a lexicographer today, Johnson was actually something of a literary multitasker. As a journalist, he wrote for an early periodical called The Gentlemen’s Magazine. As a biographer, he wrote the Life of Mr Richard Savage (1744), a memoir of a friend and fellow writer who had died the previous year. Johnson also wrote numerous poems (London, published anonymously in 1738, was his first major published work), a novel (Rasselas, 1759), a stage play (Irene, 1749), and countless essays and critiques. He also co-edited an edition of Shakespeare’s plays. And in between all of that, he even found time to investigate a supposed haunted house in central London.

4. IT WAS THE FIRST DICTIONARY TO USE QUOTATIONS.

Johnson’s dictionary defined some 42,773 words, each of which was given a uniquely scholarly definition, complete with a suggested etymology and an armory of literary quotations—no fewer than 114,000 of them, in fact.

Johnson lifted quotations from books dating back to the 16th century for the citations in his dictionary, and relied heavily on the works of authors he admired and who were popular at the time—Shakespeare, John Milton, Alexander Pope, and Edmund Spenser included. In doing so, he established a lexicographic trend that still survives in dictionaries to this day.

5. IT TOOK MORE THAN EIGHT YEARS TO WRITE.

Defining 42,000 words and finding 114,000 quotes to help you do so takes time: Working from his home off Fleet Street in central London, Johnson and six assistants worked solidly for over eight years to bring his dictionary to print. (Webster, on the other hand, worked all but single-handedly, and used the 22 years it took him to compile his American Dictionary to learn 26 different languages.)

6. JOHNSON WAS WELL PAID FOR HIS TROUBLES.

Johnson was commissioned to write his dictionary by a group of London publishers, who paid him a princely 1,500 guineas—equivalent to roughly $300,000 (£225,000) today.

7. HE LEFT OUT A LOT OF WORDS.

The dictionary’s 42,000-word vocabulary might sound impressive, but it’s believed that the English language probably had as many as five times that many words around the time the dictionary was published in 1755. A lot of that shortfall was simply due to oversight: Johnson included the word irritable in four of his definitions, for instance, but didn’t list it as a headword in his own dictionary. He also failed to include a great many words found in the works of the authors he so admired, and in several of the source dictionaries he utilized, and in some cases he even failed to include the root forms of words whose derivatives were listed elsewhere in the dictionary. Athlete, for instance, didn’t make the final cut, whereas athletic did.

Johnson’s imposition of his own tastes and interests on his dictionary didn't help matters either. His dislike of French, for example, led to familiar words like unique, champagne, and bourgeois being omitted, while those he did include were given a thorough dressing down: ruse is defined as “a French word neither elegant nor necessary,” while finesse is dismissed as “an unnecessary word that is creeping into the language."

8. HE LEFT OUT THE LETTER X.

    At the foot of page 2308 of Johnson’s Dictionary is a note merely reading, “X is a letter which, though found in Saxon words, begins no word in the English language."

    9. HIS DEFINITIONS WEREN’T ALWAYS SO SCHOLARLY.

      As well as imposing his own taste on his dictionary, Johnson also famously employed his own sense of humor on his work. Among the most memorable of all his definitions is his explanation of oats as “a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.” But he also defined monsieur as “a term of reproach for a Frenchman,” excise as “a hateful tax levied upon commodities and adjudged not by the common judges of property but wretches hired by those to whom excise is paid,” and luggage as “anything of more weight than value.” As an example of how to use the word dull, he explained that “to make dictionaries is dull work.”

      10. HE POKED LOTS OF FUN AT HIS OWN OCCUPATION.

      Listed on page 1195 of his dictionary, Johnson’s definition of lexicographer was “a writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge.”

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      Inside This Pop-Up Book Are a Planetarium, a Speaker, a Decoder Ring, and More
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      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      Designer Kelli Anderson's new book is for more than just reading. This Book Is a Planetarium is really a collection of paper gadgets. With each thick, card stock page you turn, another surprise pops out.

      "This book concisely explains—and actively demonstrates with six functional pop-up paper contraptions—the science at play in our everyday world," the book's back cover explains. It turns out, there's a whole lot you can do with a few pieces of paper and a little bit of imagination.

      A book is open to reveal a spiralgraph inside.
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

      There's the eponymous planetarium, a paper dome that you can use with your cell phone's flashlight to project constellations onto the ceiling. There's a conical speaker, which you can use to amplify a smaller music player. There's a spiralgraph you can use to make geometric designs. There's a basic cipher you can use to encode and decode secret messages, and on its reverse side, a calendar. There's a stringed musical instrument you can play on. All are miniature, functional machines that can expand your perceptions of what a simple piece of paper can become.

      The cover of This Book Is a Planetarium
      Courtesy Chronicle Books

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