Laughing at Reference Books

Article excerpt

Laughing at reference books

Let's clear the table of pieties right at the outset. No, we're not really laughing at reference books; yes, we realize that even the most arcane, seemingly silly reference book can earn its keep by providing one answer that couldn't be found elsewhere. Yes, we know that information, however ludicrous, is the lifeblood of libraries. Yes, we know all that, and we wouldn't think of suggesting anything otherwise.

Now on to the funny stuff. And, rest assured, there is funny stuff to be found in reference books. It might be unintentional Love's Leading Ladies), it might be intentional (The Great American Gripe Book), or it might stem from the simple obscurity of the subject matter (Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England), but it's definitely funny. Information, as every librarian knows, has many uses, and one of the most valuable is to make us laugh.

Falk, Kathryn. Love's Leading Ladies. Pinnscle, 1982, $6.95 (0-52341525-7). There's just so much to know about the lives of romance writers: Rebecca Brandewyne (No Gentle Love) is a belly dancer who uses the stage name Ishtar; Jennifer Blake Love's Wild Desire) believes that the more potatoes you add to your sweet potato biscuits, the stickier and better they get; and Rosemary Rogers (Wicked Loving Lies) likes romance she can "sink her teeth into." Perhaps Rosemary should try Jennifer's sweet potato biscuits.

Fletcher, Richard. Who's Who in Roman Britain and Anglo-Saxon England. St. James Press, 1989, 45 (1-55862-131-8).

It is one thing for readers to be interested in the fact that Rebecca Brandewyne is a belly dancer, but it's quite another to know that King Ethelbald of Mercia (d. 757) was the subject of a stern letter from the bishop reproaching him for the "manner of his life." Swinging Ethelbald, the Jack Kennedy of the eighth century. Unrepentant Anglophiles won't want to stop with Roman Britain; fortunately, the "Who" series also includes volumes on Stuart England and Tudor England. Can we stand all this excitement?

Lesko, Matthew. The Great American Gripe Book. information USA, 1991, $9.95 (1878346-05-9).

Don't you just hate it when your funeral home won't give you the price of a casket over the phone? Matthew Lesko does, too, but he knows who to call to fix the problem. …