Thursday, August 22, 2019

The Not-So-Nude Ride of Lady Godiva & Other Morsels of Misinformation from the History Books by David Haviland

Now, that is a title. I was worried that I couldn't fit it into the little box provided in Blogger: that's how long it is. And it will probably look gigantic at the top of this post.

This is yet another "odd fact" book: I read them pretty regularly, in the obvious household location for books that you can pick up and read for a few minutes and put down again for a day or two.

The Not-So-Nude Ride of Lady Godiva & Other Morsels of Misinformation from the History Books purports to be a "you think X is true? well, let me tell you about Y!" book, but it's not actually written that way. Instead, each mini-essay just tells the story of that historical thing -- Lady Godiva's ride or Joan of Arc's crimes, the Indian Mutiny and the Children's Crusade, the Great Leap Forward and Jack Ketch -- under a headline written as a question. I have no idea why: it's not quite a bait-and-switch, since the book is about quirky historical information that the average reader will not know, but the positioning is pretty weird.

One thing I can say: this is in a loose series, which may have influenced that positioning. First was Why You Shouldn't Eat Your Boogers & Other Useless or Gross Information About Your Body, by Francesca Gould, and it was followed by Gould's Why Fish Fart (long descriptive subtitles silently suppressed from this point) and Why Dogs Eat Poop and Why You Should Store Your Farts in a Jar, both by Gould and Haviland together.

So it looks like Gould wrote one book, it was popular, she continued, she got tired of doing it all herself and then got tired of doing it at all. (This is assuming I have the sequence right: Lady Godiva is from 2012, so I might be mixing things up temporally.) Once Haviland took it all over, the focus shifted from "gross and useless" (possibly because that vein was exhausted) to "quirky and unusual."

Frankly, I don't care all that deeply, but I used to do this for a living -- reading books, positioning them, arguing about titles, trying to hook reader interest -- so the inside-baseball questions are often more interesting to me than writing about the book itself.

I mean, the book is fine: it's got a lot of stories, all of which are true as far as I know, about interesting historical events that mostly didn't go the way Joe Average thinks they did or would think they did if Joe thought about it much. It's divided into ten vague thematic chapters, each one arranged chronologically, and it's a fun, zippy read.

It was eminently suited for the use I put it to: that's what I'm saying. It does the job, and might even have shoved a few sticky facts into my brain. So good for it!

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