Ross Parsons looks at those strange reference gift books Wthh list information no one wants to know. Do they?
Trivia: the geeks have a word for it — interesting. Non-geeks are less generous about books of ‘useless facts‘. But for those desperate to see the world in some qualified order. Christmas heralds the arrival of their twin testaments: the new— The Top Ten Book ()fliverylhing— and the old. The Guinness Book ()fReeurds.
The drink-inspired compendium of facts has a long and distinguished history. In 25 years it has shifted a hefty 65 million copies. The young pretender. meanwhile. is only in its second edition (although last year it made it into the top ten bestsellers). Both are devoured by fact-lovers eager to catalogue and comprehend a complicated world.
The Top Ten Book Of Everything aims to celebrate losers. including less information on world beaters and more on the also-rans. Hence Elisha Gray. who nearly invented the telephone. gets a worthy mention. as does the second most popular football ground to be arrested in (The Dell. Southampton). Alongside the useful — the ten highest mountains in the world. the highest grossing films. the first ten people in space (call that useful? Ed. ) — it unashamedly lists the bizarre and the banal: the top ten allergies. the top ten KP snacks and the top ten reasons for moving house.
In striving for a wider set of lists the TTBOE relies heavily on guesstimates. Right at the outset Russell Ash (straight in at number one — in the top ten ofobsessive
Caption from the Top Ten Book Of Everything: 'The 1952 Harrow rail cra
authors) admits to this shortfall in hard fact. ‘I have not been to the countries and counted them (referring to pigs) — but then neither has anyone else.‘ Amazingly. he then goes on to admit that such figures are estimated by means ranging from accurate returns to ‘wild guesses'. Which leaves an aura ofpresumption just bubbling under. if not entering. his top tens. ()fcourse the accuracy ofsuch lists won‘t worry those who will recite them parrot fashion. They all sound plausible. Who would care to argue that Britain is not third in the ‘Top Ten Fax Countries. or that Belize doesn‘t possess the world’s smallest army numerically speaking? The
point is. who cares?
Meanwhile. ifyou care about who invented the first TV for blind people. or the names ofthe people responsible for Trivial Pursuit. then it‘s The Book ()flnt'enlions And Discoveries for you. a lavishly illustrated tome with a wide frame of reference. Tobe taken twice daily until symptoms disappear.
At number one in the top ten books of trivia. however. is The Guinness Book ()fReeorrls. lt packs far more trivia per page than any of its rivals. ln recording the strictly measured ultimate achievement in each category listed. it obviates any speculative element. It is the Bible of triv-buffs. Where else would you
sh which remains the UK’s second worst.’
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turn to find out the name ofthe Frenchman who once ate a (‘essna Light Aircraft (Michel Lotito) or the record for cow-dung tossing (266 ft )‘.’ The 1991 edition has some 15.000 updated records and 300i) new’ones. Its most impressive asset. however. is that at just over 300 pages it can administer a hefty thwaek to anyone prefacing a sentence w ith ‘Did you know. . .' i
The Top Ten Book ()flz'i'erylhing is published by Mru'ilonu/rl Queen Anne I ’ress. priced [10. 9‘), The Guinness Book ()fRet‘m‘rls by Guinness (yes. really) a! [I 1.95. and The Bunk ()flnvenlimzs And Discoveries by .lluerlrmu/d Queen
A nne I ’ress u! [9. 9‘).
Eatlist. Eat boot. Eat chicken Madras with pilau rice and mango chutney. Tom Lappin reveals his strange fondness for the ultraviolent skinhead sagas of the 70s. ‘Her pert buttocks poured gracefully from her second-skin purple corduroys, as Matt caressed her by the glow of the open fire, to the strains of the latest David Soul LP.‘ They don‘t write ‘em like that anymore, which is probably just as well, but in the early 70s, the New English Library was supplying that ever-presentadolescent demand for sex and violence with a series of seminal (in the sense that they featured semen rather a lot) titles like Chopper, Mod Rule, Knuckle Girls, and Dragon Skins. The formula was simple: select your youth cult (preferably included
prominently in the title), gather a group of particularly sociopathic characters, kick up a lot of graphically-described
90 The List 23 November — 6 December 1990
bovver, indulge in ritualistic sexual activities and round things off nicely with grisly death or at least a lengthy jail sentence.
Richard Allen wrote most of these slim Homeric tales of inevitable doom in a style gleaned from eavesdropping on second-hand car salesmen. ‘Dialogue' was along the lines of ‘cop this you poxy git', ‘you randy sad or ‘fuck me e's a gonna Mick.‘ Character development consisted of ‘Joe Hawkins was a bad 'un.‘ Sex was usually closely associated with motorbikes, viz: ‘Juice Jones climbed onto his hog and felt the comforting warmth of his mama close behind him, that familiar swelling in his loins meant she would be his tonight.‘ (Note: ‘mama‘ — girlfriend—Juice is not some Oedipal strain of biker. And while we‘re explaining things, ‘hog‘ is a bike).
These tales were avidly lapped up by
a teenage male audience sick to death of a steady diet of Jennings And Derbyshire'sThinly~Disguised Gay Passion or William Brown And The Darkies. Even the girls got a look in with Knuckle Girls, a searing tale of a Glaswegian (although she spoke fluent Cockney verbal) psychopathette, slightly flawed by the author‘s tendency to dwell on the social worker's kinky sex-life at unnecessary length.
These books are all sadly out of print, but if you‘re fairly thick-skinned, and don't mind the sniggers ofshop assistants, can often be picked up at Oxfam shops or car boot sales (especially in Essex for some reason). As for Richard Allen, his whereabouts are unknown, but rumour has it that one of his final oeuvres, Disco Nurse, was deserving of a place amongst the immortals. As Joe Hawkins would have
said: Wotan ace eezer. 9 4