There’s some great non-fiction hitting the shelves these days, covering everything from deadly missions in Iraq to real-life Shades of Grey. But what about the reader who’s looking for something truly different? Well, fear not, eclectic book lover! No matter how offbeat or arcane the subject, chances are that someone, somewhere, has published a book about it.
Before we start, It’s worth noting that many of these titles have mainstream publishing houses behind them. Not the Big Six, perhaps, but successful, established houses. Which makes it that much more intriguing to picture an acquisitions editor, pencil in hand, poring over a slush pile and having a eureka moment when her eyes light upon a title like this: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy? (Though most parents probably have had days when they wondered.)
And just because a book has an offbeat title doesn’t mean It’s not full of useful information. For instance, there’s Exercises for Gentlemen: 50 Exercises to Do With Your Suit On. Published in 1908, this ?text-book in health culture? is a novelty and a charming glimpse into the past.
It also shows that things haven’t changed as much as we think. Even a hundred years ago, readers were urged to improve their health by turning their backs on ?the soul-deadening artificialities and machine methods, and the mad, feverish rush after wealth which are eating into the very heart of present-day society.?
If all that exercise sounds like too much work, there’s always this cheery little number: Teach Your Wife to be a Widow. No doubt the author gave some good ?50s-era advice on financial planning?perhaps inspired by the sight of a smiling housewife on The Radiation Cookbook.
In spite of its alarming title, the cookbook actually refers to a brand of gas stove that was sold in the 1920s. The Radiation Cookbook has become a bit of a cult classic, and The Cake Historian blog has a copy of its pound cake recipe if You’re tempted to do some old-style baking.
Not every obscure cookbook is quite as palatable, though?like some of the other curious titles in the AbeBooks? Weird Book Room.
Unmentionable Cuisine takes a serious look at food practices around the world, and according to Amazon reviewers it includes recipes for dogs, cats, and even armadillo on the half shell. And then there’s Critter Cuisine, a collection of ?new and wonderful dishes based on the creatures that crawl in our yards at night, swim in our drainage ditches, and flap around in vacant houses.? Intriguing, but I think I’ll stick to the Radiation pound cake.
Writing about such arcane topics might not put authors in line for the Giller Prize, but That’s where the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year comes in. Run by The Bookseller since 1978, this literary prize ?celebrates the very best in books with odd titles published around the world.?
So whether It’s antique English smock patterns or how to raise a witch, there’s a book out there for almost every interest. Just remember not to tell your dinner guests where you found that recipe.
S.D. Livingston is the author of several books, including the new suspense novel Kings of Providence. Visit her website for information on her writing (and for more musings on the literary world!).