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The Weird Thing Is, Someone Once Paid Money For These…..

posted on 13 Nov 2015

The Weird Thing Is, Someone Once Paid Money For These…..

Just recently I have been sorting through boxes of books that have been donated for free to help with a fund-raising event. There’s always a residual frisson associated with this because somewhere deep inside is that little glimmer of hope that you’ll come across something really interesting and maybe even rare. In my experience this hardly ever happens: instead you invariably encounter books that are genuinely odd, even bizarre, which leave you to puzzle out not why they have been donated but who might have possibly purchased this in the first place.

Top of my list of oddities in this particular intake are the extraordinary From Dagestan Around The World: Return To Paradise which is a book designed to showcase the paintings of the book’s author, Binyavin Shalumov; and,  Knitting for Dogs;  not, sadly, an instruction manual for our canine chums but a set of patterns for knitting them clothes. From Dagestan is produced in landscape format with duel language narrative, it sets Shalumov’s paintings next to photographs of his native Dagestan. Not the worst idea in the world were it not for the fact that both the paintings and the photographs must be some of the most tedious ever to have been published. I find it hard to believe anyone could ever have thought there was a market for this and even more incredible that someone actually once had a copy gracing their bookshelf. Knitting for Dogs simply reveals a relationship between human and dog which is, in my view, wrong at every possible level.

I’ve also in past had books about the beauty of locks (not canal locks – locks and keys), feet in fashion, the natural history of wood-pulp and others that I’ve erased from my memory in order to retain what little sanity I have. It would seem that I’m not the only person to be surprised and delighted by odd books that have found their way into print. The AbeBooks website has the delightfully named ‘Weird Book Room’ (http://www.abebooks.co.uk/books/weird/) where it showcases some of the crazy examples its staff have come across. My personal favourites include How Tea-Cosies Changed the World, All About Pockets, How Green Were The Nazis?, A Popular History of English Seaweed and Jewish Chess-Masters On Stamps.

I know that a lot of second hand book dealers hold on to copies of books that they seem to have no hope of ever selling because they believe that there is always someone out there who is the book’s natural reader. I’m not sure it’s possible to mount that argument when it comes to this parade of the dull and the downright weird.

Not that I’d necessarily want to see this line of publishing die out – after all, it’s given me some belly laughs. It is important though that the fabulous eccentricity these books represent stays unselfconscious because it’s their deadly seriousness of intent that is what makes them so delightful – when they are produced with a knowing sense of their own absurdity then all the pleasure is lost.

 

Terry Potter

November 2015 

(illustration is from the Abebooks.co.uk 'Weird Books Room')