A Selection of Humorous Books

By Berkmann, Marcus | The Spectator, November 9, 2013 | Go to article overview

A Selection of Humorous Books


Berkmann, Marcus, The Spectator


Books do furnish a room, and quirky books for Christmas do furnish an enormous warehouse somewhere within easy reach of the M25. There are more of them than ever this year, some purportedly comic, some wilfully trivial, a few of them uncategorisable in their oddness, but all of them have one thing in common: they will be outsold by the Hairy Bikers' diet book. Anyone who tells you that the world is a just and fair place has never written a quirky book for Christmas.

In the still popular trivia category - which has survived the stark retraction of the Ben Schott empire - two books stand out. The Unbelievable Truth (Preface, �16.99, Spectator Bookshop, �13.99) is a spin-off from the Radio 4 panel show, where hard-to-believe facts vie with easy-to-believe lies. The book, however, concentrates on the facts, and they are a splendid crop.

Look up L for Lemons, and we have the following. Rubbing a lemon under your arms is a traditional Puerto Rican treatment for a hangover. Casanova gave his mistresses partially squeezed lemon halves to use as contraceptives. And at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, when the outnumbered Ottoman fleet ran out of missiles, they threw lemons and oranges at the Holy League soldiers, who in turn threw them back.

Graeme Garden, he of The Goodies, and Jon Naismith compile the show and wrote the book, but needless to say the only person mentioned or shown on the cover is the show's host David Mitchell, whose only contribution here is a brief introduction.

Ah, the power of celebrity.

No less inventive is Numberland: The World In Numbers (O'Mara, �12.99, Spectator Bookshop, �10.99) by Mitchell Symons, the doyen of all things trivial. In this, his 459,253rd book, Symons throws together an extraordinary proliferation of daft numerical facts, and in so doing has created the lavatory book of the year. Here are three from the sport section. Maria Sharapova's loudest grunt was measured at 101.2 decibels in Wimbledon in 2005: that's louder than a motorcycle or a lawnmower. The oldest golfer to 'score his age' was C. Arthur Thompson, who in 1973 hit a 103 at the age of 103. And the number of golf balls lost in water hazards on British golf courses every year? Just 20 million or so.

And how many new books are there about words, grammar and language? By the time you got round to counting them all, another dozen or so would have come out.

Nonetheless, Harry Ritchie's English for the Natives: Discover the Grammar You Don't Know You Know (John Murray, �14.99, Spectator Bookshop, �11.99) leaps to the top of the pile for its sharp, good sense, linguistic rigour, sense of humour and absolute rejection of 19th-century pedants who won't let you start a sentence with 'and' or split an infinitive.

Funnier still, and infinitely more depressing, is Steven Poole's Who Touched Base In My Thought Shower? …

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