Strange books in my library…

December 6, 2014

I don’t know how I found myself thinking about bizarre books, but I do have a few in my library…

Adolf in Blunderland is what the title suggests,  a parody. It features Hitler and his henchmen in 1939, complete with illustrations in imitation of Tenniel’s for Alice in Wonderland, and marvellous rewritings of some of the songs and poems. I came across it in a secondhand bookshop over forty years ago and was moved to pay the then princely sum of five shillings for it (that’s 25p if you don’t do real money). I think I’ve only ever come across one other copy since then.

Many years ago a Polish relative presented me with a copy of a Road Atlas of the Soviet Union (it was often hard to find interesting gifts for people in those days) and it has become a treasured possession. You might expect, what with Russia being an enormous country, that this would be a weighty and considerable tome, but it’s actually quite modest. What stuns you is the vast areas missing from it. In the front of a normal road atlas you usually have an index grid of the country, to show you where to turn to a particular region, and in this one there are vast gaps. It’s not because of censorship, either, just that huge areas have no roads, and you either get to them by air or boat or not at all, because there’s nothing there. You can drive down a road which will have no turn-offs for five, six, seven hundred kilometres. There will be a couple of petrol stations marked, and then the road will end in a small town. And then you would have to turn round and drive all the way back…

Many years ago I heard a short talk on Radio 3 based on a phrasebook published in the nineteenth century in Portugal, for Portuguese people wanting to converse in English. Nothing remarkable, until you realise that the author couldn’t speak a word of English… he had translated it all from a French phrasebook using a dictionary, and it made very little sense at all. A shortened version of that book was actually printed in Victorian times and has been reprinted occasionally since; I came by one many years ago, and it’s a falling-over-and-crying-with-laughter one. You can track it down on the Internet Archive – English As She is Spoke, or A Jest in Sober Earnest.

The amazing people at Mapywig – the Polish Military Geographical institute – saved me a great deal of money by scanning and making available online a book I’d wanted to see for years. Baedeker’s Guides have been famous tourist guides for many years. In 1943 the company was ordered to publish one to the Generalgouvernement, the fiefdom of Hans Frank, the Nazi ruler of the rump of Poland that was not allowed to be called Poland. So, carefully written in proper Nazi ideological style, but unfortunately having still to mention things like the Polish language which hadn’t been eradicated, would-be German tourists are guided through the towns and cities – bombed to ruins, quite often, and the scenes of random massacres, ghettos and mayhem – told how to manage, which hotels to stay in and how to cope with the natives. It was a vanity project, the book is very rare, and the Poles hanged Frank after the war.

Do you have any weirdness in your library?

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