Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hail to the King, Baby

So. Here we are. Mary has decided to make me an official contributer.

She is smart, and she is well-read, but sometimes her judgement is lacking.

All kidding aside, I'm unduly excited about hitching a ride on this train, and I've worked up an extensive and (hopefully) interesting list of books to post on for starters, ranging from "Accessible Academia" to comics to more traditional novels to the sci-fi that Mary won't read (Hello, Heinlein!). But for my inaugural post, I've decided to range a little far afield of the type of book usually featured on This Book is For You, because that is how I roll.

Mary and I brought back a number of things from our honeymoon, which we spent in the U.K.: nifty Celtic knot cufflinks, fond memories of the night we spent in Chelsea toasting Joey Ramone in the King's Head and Eight Bells, and - for all I know - a nasty case of Mad Cow Disease that will probably crop up in the middle of my dissertation defense. But the most precious keepsake of those magical two weeks in which the webmistress and I traipsed hither and yon over the stomping grounds of Shakespeare, Hardy, and Coleridge is, in fact, Horrible Histories: Cruel Kings and Mean Queens by Terry Deary, illustrated by Martin Brown.

Part of a much larger series, written in order to get kids interested in history by focusing on the bizarre and the gross, CK&MQ has been an endless source of pleasure in the Potts/McCoy household. It is, quite possible, the greatest "I have ten minutes to kill and cannot go without some form of stimulation" book in the history of publishing. Need something to read during the commercial breaks of Veronica Mars? Check out the section on royal sporting habits. (Henry VIII got in a game of tennis while Anne Boleyn got the axe, as it turns out.) Can't fall asleep? Amuse yourself by matching popular nicknames to monarchs in one of the quizzes sprinkled throughout the book. (John I? Soft-sword. Apparently, he stank at war.)

It's laid out as a series of very short, abundantly illustrated chapters about each monarch, covering their "Claim to Fame," factoids both "Funny" and "Fantastic," and then capped with a "Did you know?" There are also various tangents interspersed throughout, and of these the bit on royal medicine - or what I like to call "Adventures in Bloodletting" - is my hands-down favorite. The writing is a strange cross between UK tabloid-speak and a textbook as written by a member of Monty Python, only a Python past their prime. Groaners abound, but on the other hand you do you get to enjoy all that swotty British slang.

It is by no means literature, and I understand the series has sparked some hand-wringing and at least one lawsuit back across the pond. (Note: the Scots do not take kindly to having their haggis mocked.) That said, having done a little research on the series for this post, it is my new mission in life to find a copy of the Civil War book they published.

If you like:
The Cartoon History of the Universe by Larry Gonick
The Sun, or The News of the World
...this book is for you.

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