06 Apr 2009
The Book of the Bizarre” is a collection of facts, half-facts, speculations, fiction and outright falsehoods that was not so much written or compiled but excreted.
It reminded me of Jamie Lee Curtis’ rant to her dumb boyfriend in “A Fish Called Wanda”: “Now, let me correct you on a couple of things, OK? Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not ‘Every man for himself.’ And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.”
In the case of “Bizarre,” I want to tell Varla Ventura that Led Zepplin did not sell their souls to the devil for a recording contract; that cannibal Alfred Packer’s first name is not “Alferd”; that Mary Shelley did not snatch her husband’s heart from his funeral pyre — she wasn’t even there; that the Locusta who may have poisoned the Emperor Claudius was not Nero’s mother, that was Agrippina; and that Michelangelo most emphatically did not carve David “while waiting for his editor to approve his novel, a thriller called ‘Chislers in Florence.’”
A glance at the bibliography indicates that Ventura harvested other trivia books for her material, including Michael Largo’s excellent “Genius and Heroin,” which is like using Kobe beef to make White Castle burgers. She also listed one book twice, one book incorrectly, and despite an extensive list of websites, forgot Gullible.info, from which I found the suspect “duck dander” law, verbatim.
She also has a deaf ear for prose. Discussing poisonings, Ventura writes that, “People have used this silent but deadly method of murder for hundreds of years.” The mind reels not only at the thought of “hundreds of years” (only?), but the conjoining of murder with farts. One also wonders why she thought the death of Aldous Huxley and John F. Kennedy on the same day was bizarre, or that Hemingway and Hart Crane were born on the same day and committed suicide. I suppose, to fill out a book, one’s standards tend to ease.
I have no objection to nonsense. It can be an entertaining and amusing way to pass the time. But if you’re selling flapdoodle, it should be Grade A flapdoodle. This is not. Reading “The Book of the Bizarre” will only make you dumber.