I own many, many books. But with space constraints, the availability of electronic books, and the redundancy of reference books that provide “Googleable” info, even I, a steadfast book lover, have to admit it’s time to do a cleanout.
Some of my chosen discards stand out—and not in a good way. Below I list books, mostly of unknown provenance, for your edification and entertainment (and my own embarrassment). I do so with the same sense of trepidation news organizations must experience when they report information about a mass murderer; one doesn’t wish to unintentionally glorify the worst aspects of humanity. Do not seek out these books, I beg you.
Golden Guide to Bicycling (1972) – A small book with color pictures, the first full page begins with the following sentence: “The pleasures of bicycling are too numerous and too personal to explain to those who do not already know.” Never has a book so succinctly made the case for its own destruction.
201 Spanish Verbs (1963) – Although I suspect the Spanish-speaking world hasn’t introduced many more verbs since 1963, a mere 201 seemed somewhat limited when compared with a full Spanish-English dictionary, readily available from library or internet, or the implicitly superior book 501 Spanish Verbs (2017).
Blanche Knott’s Truly Tasteless Jokes VI (1986) – Truth in advertising, complete with AIDS jokes. Maybe you had to read TTJ I-V first to really appreciate it, but I’m willing to let this one go before my kids find it and get themselves suspended from school, or worse.
Who Moved My Cheese? (1998) by Spencer Johnson M.D. – I once worked for a corporation (which shall remain nameless), and If I ever harbored any doubts that I was an official participant in the rat race, the day I and 50 other employees were handed this book of corporate-approved self-help advice put those doubts to rest. I’m proud to say I’ve skimmed through it, but never read it.
The only other book I was given during my tenure at that (OK, no longer nameless) company was Becoming American Express: 150 Years of Reinvention and Customer Service, which, yes, is as thrilling as it sounds. It’s the kind of coffee table book you put on top of other coffee table books, to protect them in case someone spills coffee or something.
Idiot’s Guides to Tennis, Photography, and Wine Basics – Though I am firmly ensconced in amateur territory for all three of these subjects, I must admit to a certain sensitivity when it comes to being called an Idiot or a Dummy on every page. My self esteem damaged, I might go running (or flying) to ….
Jonathan Livingston Seagull (1970) and Illusions (1977) by Richard Bach. After seeing numerous references to these 1970s self-help bestsellers, I had to read them and see what all the fuss was about. They did help my self in one way: any time I catch myself wishing I’d been older during the 1970s—been able to see Led Zeppelin or The Doors live, for example—there’s stuff like this that makes me quite happy to be stuck in the 21st century, with Led Zeppelin IV playing in the background as I read anything other than this new-age nonsense.
An Angel to Watch Over Me: True Stories of Children’s Encounters with Angels (1994) by Joan Wester Anderson – If multiple accounts of angels doing miraculous things, like soothing a kid’s fear of thunderstorms, aren’t enough for the credulous, this book also features angel poems, an angel song, and a handy list of “resources,” which consists of addresses (and prices) for ordering additional angel-themed videos, coloring books, and dolls. The equally disconcerting Angel Letters (1991) by Sophy Burnham includes the statement, “They [angels] cannot be seen, but then neither can a black hole in space.” To this flawless logic, I also bid adieu.
Let us not forget Gods and Spacemen of the Ancient Past by W. Raymond Drake, who asks, on the front cover of this 1974 Signet paperback, “Was Jesus a great intelligence from a higher planet incarnated on Earth to inspire man’s spiritual evolution?” “Was Lilith a spacewoman, and mother of the Chosen People?” “Was the Star of Bethlehem really a UFO?” “Are we children of the Gods?” I hate to be a spoiler, but the answer to all of these is no. So now you won’t feel as though you’ve missed anything.
The Formula Book by Norman Stark (1975) – a book that contains chemistry formulas for common household products. Make your own toothpaste, garden insecticide, or mouse and rat hole sealer! The latter recipe consists of asphalt, kerosene, and powdered asbestos, so this might be a book to give to those friends you don’t really like. If they don’t blow themselves up or give themselves cancer, maybe they’ll at least attract some unwanted attention from the FBI. Contains the helpful note that “a ‘speck’ is a measure [..] defined as the amount of material that will lie within a 1/4 inch square marked on a piece of paper or a note card.” If that description excites you, this is definitely the book for you.
There are more, but you get the idea. I was going to title this column “Book Cleanse,” in keeping with the ritual purifications people perform by exclusively eating clay, baby food, or cabbage soup, among other strange items, in order to remove toxins. Make no mistake, these books are toxic, yet “book cleanse” doesn’t do justice to this process—the last thing I’d prescribe is a diet that included, let alone consisted entirely of, these books. This is more like the completion of a different food-inspired cycle—the messy, inevitable result of a decades-long, undiscerning, all-consuming book-collecting binge: a violent and vomitous “book purge.”
Peter Dabbene’s website is peterdabbene.com. His most recent discovery, a long-lost letter from Winston Churchill, can be viewed at decasp.com. His latest book, The End of Spamming the Spammers (with Dieter P. Bieny) is available on Amazon.