The rise of e-books sadly means there will be fewer and fewer books displayed on people’s shelves as the years roll on. That’s a pity, I think. In addition to their sheer convenience, the books on the shelves of one’s home impart flavor and personality and say a lot about the individual who lives there.
Certain books stand out, not for their content, but for their titles. These are the books so bizarrely titled that they cry out to be displayed on a shelf or coffee table, purely for the “WTF?” effect they have on visitors to your home. Following is a list of my personal favorites in this category.
Malleus Maleficarum (Der Hexenhammer or “The Hammer of Witches”)
The Malleus Maleficarum is both enormous and dry, leading me to question the integrity and anyone (other than a historian) who claims to have read more than a few isolated passages from the work. I have tried on more than one occasion. The book just screams “Read Me!” But anytime I have actually sat down and attempted the feat, within half and hour or so I’m like “Oh crap! I can’t read this shit.”
The book is divided into three sections. The first section deals with the authenticy of witches and witchcraft and seeks to refute claims of skeptics. The second section deals more with the science (Snort!) of witchraft: What they do, how they do it, and what role do others (e.g. Satan) play. The last section is the practical section, dealing with how to interrogate and torture a witch to produce a confession, how to prosecute a witch, how to conduit a witch trial, and related matters. Sounds thrilling, no? If you often find yourself wondering how to go about conduiting a witch trial, this may be the book for you!
How did I come across this lovely gem by Cristiano Nisoli? I’m guessing it was a strange quirk of timing that I happeed to be on Amazon.com just as that book was coming out. I did a search for Robert Frost and clicked on a volume of collected poems. There, at the bottom of the screen, I saw “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought,” followed by Dynamical Phyllotaxis, Artificial Spin Ice, and Graphenic Bicontinuum: A journey through leaves and stems, rotons and solitons, magnets and arrays, one ground state lost, many found and two fields. It was the ONLY BOOK in the list! No kidding … it really happened that way. I wish I had a screen-cap to prove it! I never bought the book, but I’ve been damn tempted over the years.
This book, together with it’s sequel, The Ageless Gergel, holds the memoirs of America’s most legendary (yet unknown to the greater public) “cowboy chemist.” The two volumes are a curious mix of beer, chemistry, and titties in the largely unregulated Golden Age of chemistry during the second half of the 20th century.
Max Gergel was (and IS … as far as I know, he’s still alive and kicking in Columbia, SC, although in his late 80’s or 90’s by now) a riot. Max and his memoirs have been written about by others (for example, here and here) so there is no point in my repeating what has already been said elsewhere. The reviews at Amazon.com are fairly insightful as well, for those who wish to know more about Max and the memoirs he is famous for. I would, however, like to quote a passage from the second volume (The Ageless Gergel) as I think gives a good idea as to the flavor of these two volumes.
“I had been visiting Will at the plant in Elgin, South Carolina, and noticed that he smelled goaty. For that matter, the other workers seemed to have a goaty odor, too. I inquired the reason, and he took me to the source, an isolated section of the plant, which smelled horrendous. A large glass still, one that would have delighted a moonshiner in the old whiskey-making days was stinking up Hardwicke Chemical Co. and the surrounding farms. Now fatty acids have a rank odor smelling like rancid butter. The absolute worst member of the series is isovaleric acid. This smells like rancid butter with a soupgon of goat and old sneakers thrown in for good measure. As bad as it smells, the acid chloride derived from it is worse. It is so volatile that it will chase a visitor and leave its far from subtle mark. The odor is soap, water and Lysol resistant. This acid chloride reacts with mucous membrane so that while you are rendered ill by the obnoxious odor, the acid chloride is hydrolyzing with your perspiration as a reactant and eats away your lips, eyeballs and tongue. Hardwicke, committed to make this monster, was only too happy to find’ Columbia Organic Chemicals Co., Inc., as a “farmout” and once more we were making something no one else wanted to make.
We had never had such a dreadful assignment. Anyone working with this “superstink” is branded and given a wide berth. No matter how amorous his spouse may be, passion crumples despite baths, Chlorox and Dentine. For a while we made isovaleroyl chloride at Cedar Terrace. It created pandemonium among residents who first sniffed each other, came to the plant to sniff us, and then sniffled to their lawyers.”
That is all: My current list of “Wow!” factor book titles. Only three as of this writing. I could add more (e.g. “The Vagina Monologues”), but I think these three books set the bar pretty high. I would love to add to the list though, so if anybody should happen to read this and knows of a volume that begs to be included, just drop me a note or post a comment here to tell me about it. 🙂