Novelty Christmas books
If it’s Christmas, that means a slew of oddball titles being pushed into stockings. But are they any good?
See our guide to best Christmas present books
The Atheist’s Bible
Duckworth Overlook, £12.99
A collection of ‘irreverent thoughts’ from notable atheists. Cheats slightly by quoting sceptical characters from plays and novels, many of them by believers or writers whose relationship with religion is uncategorisably complex (Graham Greene, Emily Dickinson). There’s rather a lot of Arthur C Clarke and Woody Allen. But then there would be.
How to Get Things Really Flat
Short Books, £12.99
This guide to household chores for men by historical crime novelist Martin is full of fun tips and musings on, for instance, the difficulty of watching subtitled DVDs while ironing and the use of sodium bicarbonate in fridge-cleaning. Problem: it’s too waffly and anecdotal to be hugely useful, plus it’s predicated on two false assumptions – that women are tidier than men and, as a rule, know more about how vacuum-cleaners, washing machines etc work. I write as someone who recently showed his wife how to use the oven.
Grandma’s Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals
Amanda McCall and Ben Schwartz
A simple but winning formula: pictures of cute kittens, puppies, baby rabbits etc, each bearing an offensive legend: ‘Your baby’s ugly’; ‘It’s only sunny because there’s a hole in the ozone layer’; ‘Daddy’s never coming home’. They’re designed as postcards so you can tear them out and send them to your friends. Could be funnier, given the pedigree of its authors – successful US writer-comedians with ‘The Late Show with David Letterman’ on their CVs. See below: ‘I Can Has Cheezburger?’.
Venn That Tune
Takes well-known song titles. Plots them on graphs, pie charts and Venn diagrams. Sounds boring but is actually witty and ingenious – Viner finds multiple mind-boggling ways to depict songs as diverse as ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, ‘Annie, I’m Not Your Daddy’ and ‘Saving All My Love for You’, though is funniest when he keeps it simple, eg the Venn diagram showing ‘Things That I Can Get Out of My Head’ and (outside the circle) ‘you’.
A Book for People Who Want to Become Stinking Rich but Aren’t Quite Sure How
A compendium of bright, hopefully lucrative ideas from the authors of ‘This Diary Will Change Your Life’. Our favourites: the iBadge (worn on your chest so that everyone can see how cool your music taste is); the psychotherapist matchmaking service (based on intimate knowledge of clients’ deepest childhood-related psychoses); and a second internet (because the first one is near breaking point).
Getting off at Gateshead
Who better to collect the dirtiest words and phrases in the English language than top slang lexicographer Green? No Gareth Hunt he. In case you were wondering, ‘getting off at Gateshead’ means withdrawal before ejaculation. The alternative is continuing all the way to Newcastle. The phrase ‘matrimonial peacemaker’ to describe the penis dates from the seventeenth century. Fancy.
How to Avoid Huge Ships, and other Implausibly Titled Books
But of course, ‘implausible’ isn’t the same as ‘funny’, especially when many of the featured titles (eg ‘Do-It-Yourself Brain Surgery and Other Home Skills’, ‘The Care and Feeding of Stuffed Animals’) are already jokes. Anyway, what’s so implausible about a book about marmalade called ‘The Book of Marmalade’?
My Gonads Roar
The internet has devalued the anagram – it’s too easy to generate them these days – so to impress they have to be powerfully descriptive. Richard Napier clearly has the right sort of brain for them (‘Sitting in traffic behind a Cavalier, I’d think: what “a vile car” ’) and his don’t disappoint. Jennifer Aniston: fine in torn jeans. Osama bin Laden: bad man is alone. Steven Berkoff: knob fever fest. Gordon Ramsay supplies the title.
I Can Has Cheezburger?
Ah, look – lolcats. You know about lolcats. They’re photos, generally of cats, overlaid with humorous captions, generally written in the bad-grammar internet patois known as ‘lolspeak’ or ‘kitty pidgin’. Do web-based geek gags work in book form? Just about, though it helps if you found them funny in their original context. See above: ‘Grandma’s Dead: Breaking Bad News with Baby Animals’.
I Never Knew That About the English
Daily Mail-friendly compendium of ‘English’ facts and figures. Full of blather about ‘this island race’ – one which comprises, it says here, ‘all those who have settled in England and fallen in love with this uncommon land: Celts, Romans, Jutes, Angles, Saxons, Danes, Jews, Normans, Huguenots, Flemings and Walloons’. Hang on, is that really everyone? It isn’t, is it?
Tomorrow’s World: Genius Gadgets and Gizmos
BBC Books, £9.99
How Not To Do Nostalgia Publishing, Part I: ‘explain’ the past by means of a jauntily ironic commentary. Of Kieran Prendiville’s famous 1981 demonstration of the CD – scratching its (top, information-free) surface to prove its alleged indestructibility – Stubbs observes: ‘As we all know, the other side turned out to be rather more vulnerable.’ Well, well – aren’t we the smart ones?
See our guide to best Christmas present books
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