Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Bizarre books

In the Telegraph's Seven magazine, Brian Lake writes about his book with Russell Ash, Fish Who Answer the Telephone and Other Bizarre Books.

‘Bizarre books’ fall into a fairly small number of categories. The most immediately funny are old titles which, because of changes in our usage of language, mean something quite different now: Drummer Dick’s Discharge, Erections on Allotments, Two Men Came Together (The story of Mr Rolls and Mr Royce), Shag the Pony (or Shag the Caribou, for that matter), Invisible Dick.

Process of linguistic change can be quite fast: Queer Shipmates was published in 1962. There is a lot of fun in matching an author’s name to the title – ‘Over the Cliff,' by Eileen Dover, is fictional, but these are all real: William Battie wrote his Treatise on Madness in 1758, Supt James Bent reminisced on Criminal Life: Forty-two Years as a Police Officer in 1891 and Wilhelmina Stitch wove Silken Threads in 1927.

The original Fish Who Answer the Telephone, 1937, from which we steal the title of our new collection of bizarre books, is a classic example of a serious book parading under an apparently bizarre title. Professor Frolov, a colleague of Pavlov, writes of animal experiments in which even a goldfish can ‘learn’ that the sound of a telephone will mean an electric shock.

There is more of the story here.

--Marshal Zeringue