The funniest book titles from the world of publishing
Occasionally, when we lift our noses up from our dusty tomes here at Interesting Literature Towers, people ask us, ‘What’s the best book you’ve come across in your research?’ Okay, they don’t ask it all that often. Picking a best book would prove difficult (though we’ve compiled some of our favourite book recommendations here), but probably the one that’s made us laugh the most is Bizarre Books, a compendium of downright ridiculous but genuine books and their laughable titles. The sort of books that will make you wonder how they ever got published, and who thought the title might be a good idea (though to be fair, some of them have been the victim of language changes which the original publishers could not have foreseen – Grimm’s Tales Made Gay, for instance). Edited by Russell Ash and Brian Lake, Bizarre Books is a hilarious history of the weird world of publishing in all manner of fields – food, fiction, children’s books, celebrity memoir, entomology, sex, and much else besides – all told through that simplest and most revealing of things, book titles. Here are 20 of our favourite funny book titles mentioned in Bizarre Books.
The Population of Great Britain Broken Down by Age and Sex. In 1991, Her Majesty’s Stationery Office (HMSO) published this book. Presumably the statistics were broken down by age and sex rather than the populace itself.
Scatalogic Rites of All Nations. In 1891, Captain John G. Bourke published this excrementally focused work of anthropology. Its title-page warns: ‘Not for General Perusal’. We’re not surprised.
Why Not Eat Insects? Why not indeed? Vincent M. Holt certainly saw nothing wrong with a bit of entomophagy in this 1885 cookbook, which contains, among others, recipes for snail soup, curried cockchafers, and moths on toast. Yum.
Dainty Dishes for Slender Incomes. This 1895 cookbook includes some recipes which most of us nowadays would not consider feasible on a slender income: turbot in lobster sauce, duck and salad, and grouse and chips.
Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing. Samuel Hoffenstein’s 1928 volume includes ‘Poems intended to incite the utmost depression’.
Dentologia: A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth. American poet Solyman Brown published this poem in 1833.
Drummer Dick’s Discharge. In 1902, Beatrix M. De Burgh published this children’s book, whose title was presumably not so snigger-inducing then (though given some of the sexual innuendos Dickens got away with, there must have been some who tittered when they saw this title).
Penetrating Wagner’s Ring. In 1978, John Louis DiGaetani published his study of one of the greatest achievements in opera, the Ring Cycle by Richard Wagner.
Hurrah! A Bit of Loving Talk with Soldiers. As if that delicious title wasn’t enough, chapter 4 of this 1881 book is titled ‘I’m going in for him – hard’. No sniggering at the back there, please.
The Symptoms, Nature, Cause, and Cure of a Gonorrhoea. Fair enough, you might think, but the author of this 1713 book was the rather unfortunately named William Cockburn. Pronounced ‘co-burn’, we’re sure.
Thrilling Experiences of the First British Woman Relieved by Lord Roberts. This was published in 1900, and detailed Lord Roberts’ relief of the besieged city of Kimberley in South Africa during the Second Boer War. Of course.
Planet of the Knob Heads. A science-fiction novel published in 1939 by Stanton A. Coblentz.
The Itinerary of a Breakfast. Published by cereal impresario John Harvey Kellogg in 1926, and described as an ‘account of the travels of a breakfast through the food tube’.
Three Weeks in Wet Sheets: A Moist Visitor to Malvern. From 1856.
An Essay on Diseases Incidental to Literary and Sedentary Persons. Published in 1768, and written by a Swiss doctor named Samuel Tissot.
Sexual Analysis of Dickens’ Props. Published in 1971. Its author, Arthur Washburn Brown, described it as ‘a work inspired by Susanna Nobbe’. Freud would no doubt have a field day.
Jokes Cracked by Lord Aberdeen. From 1929.
1587, a Year of No Significance. In 1981, Ray Huang wrote this rather unpromising-sounding book.
These are just a few of our personal favourites from a hugely entertaining book. Bizarre Books is well worth a look if you’re a bibliophile – it’s bound to keep you chuckling throughout, at least if your sense of humour is anything like ours!
Image (top): Poems in Praise of Practically Nothing (picture credit: Chris Drumm on Flickr). Image (bottom): Cover of Science Fiction including Planet of the Knob Heads (picture credit: The Lex Talionis on Flickr).