The Great, the Gross and the Gruesome

Have you ever read a book that sent shivers down your spine?  Have you ever read a passage that was so gross that it made you gag?  Have you ever had to close a book and said to yourself, “I don’t think I can read any more of this?”  Now, have you ever done these things with a trivia book?  I have, and the book was Gruesome Facts, published by Igloo books.  So I just have to share all the wonderful things you can learn in this book, like:

Places you should not go on vacation:

  • The village of Pluckley in Kent England, which is one of the most haunted places in the world
  • Deshnoke in India is a good place to stay away from, unless you really like rats
  • Centralia, PA, unless you want to turn into a human fireball
  • Siberia, Russia, for not only is Tunguska, Siberia a lonely and desolate spot whose burned landscape cannot be fully explained, but it is also the home of Peter Plogojowitz, who is said to be the first vampire.  You thought it was Count Dracula, but he’s just a character in a book, who was inspired by Vlad the Impaler, who was not a vampire — just a guy that impaled his victims on stakes.

People you do not want to travel back in time and meet:

  • Queen Ranavalona of Madagascar, whose favorite pastime was boiling people alive.  I was going to make a cooking reference here but it would probably sound too much like Titus Andronicus.
  • Emperor Caligula, who once had a section of the Coliseum’s spectators slaughtered by wild animals, just because he was bored. And they say video games make you violent. 
  • Anyone in the Medici family in Italy; not only did they kill other people, they also killed each other, second only to the Borgia family in their pursuit of power.  So, I would stay away from the Borgias too, and for Pete’s sake don’t tell them about the time machine.

People you do not want operating on you:

  • Dr. Walter Freeman, who preformed lobotomies with an icepick. Can you say “Ouch?”
  • Dr. John R. Brinkley, who used to implant people with goat glands while he was drunk.  I’m thinking the patients must have been drunk too.
  • Ferdinand Waldo Demara Jr.– please note there is no Dr. in front of his name. There is a reason for that.  He wasn’t one, but he played one in the Royal Canadian Navy.
  • Bonus Information: Did you know they used to use giant ants to clamp intestinal wounds together?  Now, don’t you wish you didn’t?

Things you don’t want to eat:

  • Casu marzu. Sounds harmless, but it is cheese with live maggots in it (and yes, this is where I gagged). The book does warn you to be sure and crunch the maggots to death before you swallow because they can tear holes in your gut. (Yum!)
  • Jellied Moose Nose.  Yes, it is exactly what it says it is.  (Still reading?  It gets better—or should that be worse.)
  • Hard Tack.  You may have heard of this as many books have featured hard tack as a food for sailors. However, this is a biscuit that is so old and stale that it is filled with weevils and other insects. (If you haven’t noticed, I’m not much of an insect eater.)
  • Pretzels. Have you ever wondered how pretzels get that lovely brown color on the outside?  It comes from the chemical compound urea, which can be extracted from urine.  Now, it can be made chemically as well, which is how I’m sure how the ones we eat are made. However, I will never look at my favorite salty snack the same again.

Since we’re talking about bodily fluids…

  • Don’t ever ask an Inuit man in Alaska what he’s going to do with that bucket full of urine.  You will never shake anyone’s hand again.
  • Don’t eat your boogers.  You don’t want to know what’s in them.
  • For the same reason, don’t pee in the shower. You never know what’s in your kidneys.
  • Bonus information: There is a man who had his rear end rebuilt after a horrible car accident left him badly damaged.  He now has to go to the toilet using a remote control, which he carries in his pocket. (No, I didn’t make that up.)

These topics are just the tip of the iceberg in the book Gruesome Facts.  So, if you ever wanted to know why the Romans used to have vomitoriums, or why the people in northeast England hung a monkey, then this book is for you. You can find a new copy of Gruesome Facts at your local Half Price Books this Halloween season.  And if you make jellied moose nose for your Halloween party, please don’t invite me. – Julie

Julie is Production Manager at Half Price Books Corporate.
You may follow her on Twitter at @auntjewey.

Top Three Things I Learned from Shel Silverstein’s Every Thing On It

When I picked up Every Thing On It last fall, I expected the poems and illustrations so uniquely Shel Silverstein to remind me of being a kid again – silly, awkward, dreamy.  And they did.  But they did more.  Several of his poems connected to my adult life – the questions, the pressures, the state of our world.

“Years From Now,” starts the collection.  “Although I cannot see your face / As you flip these poems awhile/ Somewhere from some far-off place / I hear you laughing – and I smile.”

If the answer to the big question, “What is the meaning of life?” is to leave behind a legacy you can be proud of, Shel Silverstein’s legacy of laughter, dreaming and thinking certainly fit the bill.

“Yesees and Noees” really stuck in my mind, too.  “…So the Yesees all died of much too much / And the Noees all died of fright / But somehow I think the Thinkforyourselfees / All came out all right.”  What a straightforward way to point out the solution to surviving pressures.

As for the state of our world, we are often so afraid to be seen as different because differences get punished.  But in “Masks”, Shel Silverstein reveals to us, “She had blue skin / And so did he. He kept it hid / And so did she.  They searched for blue / Their whole life through / Then passed right by – And never knew.”

Just as The Giving Tree was considered both children’s and adult literature, Every Thing On It can be, too.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein.

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from a Shel Silverstein poem or book? – Kim

Kim is Store Manager at Cedar Rapids HPB in Marion, IA.

Chick Lit Review: Spin by Catherine McKenzie

Sometimes I just need to read a good space-out-and-barely-think-while-reading type of book. Especially after completing required reading in school. Or, if you’re half-way through the HPB Lit Classics Reading Challenge, maybe you’re ready for a change of pace. That’s where wonderful “chick lit” novels like Spin by Catherine McKenzie come in. 

Spin‘s protagonist, Kate Sanford, scores an interview for her dream job at The Line, a hip music magazine, on the eve of her 30th birthday. After celebrating too much the night before, she shows up to the interview still drunk– thus royally screwing up her interview. Following an unfortunate incident in the bathroom, she did not receive her dream job; she was, however, offered another. The task: Follow a reality TV star, Amber Sheppard, to rehab and write a “killer exposé” on the experience. Kate decides to do it.
On the first day of group therapy in rehab, Kate meets Amber, who pretends to be a frog to catch the attention of a director, who is also in rehab. Kate starts out only wanting to discover the inside scoop for her article, but soon finds a soft spot for Amber, with whom Kate becomes great friends. Will Kate actually write the tell-all article about Amber?
After just a few pages, I was hooked, drawn in by Kate’s quirky and fallible character. I loved when Kate says during her drunken interview, “I had a lot of trouble narrowing down my musical influences because I really love all kinds of music. Like, I might dig a Britney Spears song, and the next minute be listening to, you know, Korn.”
This book is often hilarious and even sometimes touching. Spin comes out in paperback today (Feb. 7). Thanks to publisher William Morrow for sending us a copy to review.
If you’ve already read Spin, you might also like:

From left to right: Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears PradaSophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series • Harriet Evan’s A Hopeless RomanticMeg Cabot’s Size 12 is Not FatHester Browne’s The Little Lady AgencyEmily Giffin’s Something Borrowed
What types of books do you use to escape and take your mind of things?

— Kristen B.