/ Mark Frauenfelder / 2 pm Mon, Feb 4 2013
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  • Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories - best bathroom reader ever?

    Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories - best bathroom reader ever?

    Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories is possibly the best bathroom reading book ever written.

    For the past couple of weeks my kids and I have been on a weird-but-true books kick. They've been reading Stranger Than Science, a 1960 paperback that I discovered when I was about 11 or 12. The stories in Stranger Than Science are very entertaining, but a lot of them have been debunked, or at least detoothed, over the years.

    I wondered if there might be a modern weird-but-true book that is entertaining as well as truthful. I looked around and I think I found it. It's National Geographic's Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories. This fat book (540 pages) is loaded with the same kinds of stories found in Stranger Than Science and Strangely Enough, but it isn't afraid to punch holes in popular urban legends. It explains the truth behind the Maya "doomsday" calendar, and the latest thinking behind Bigfoot, Area 51, and Chupacabra. And it does so without taking the fun or mystery out of them.

    But Tales of the Weird isn't all about busting myths. Most of the book focuses on the wonderfully strange things in our universe: Women can sniff out men with odorless pheromones. Your brain can take cat naps while you are awake. Eating crocodiles may have resulted in the development of bigger brains in human beings. Ladybug incubators enslaved by wasps. New death ritual found in Himalaya. Cocaine addiction uses same brain paths as salt cravings. Astronauts' fingernails falling off. Five weirdest bugs. The Freemasons: eight myths decoded. Why do birds fall from the sky? UFO-like clouds linked to military maneuvers? Giant, mucuslike sea blobs on the rise, pose danger. And hundreds of others.

    When Jane (9) read the chapter on synesthesia she became very excited and told me that she thought she was the only person in the world who connected specific colors with letters of the alphabet (Q is a dark purple for her, for instance).

    This is possibly the best bathroom reading book ever written.

    Tales of the Weird: Unbelievable True Stories

    / / COMMENTS


    1. My mom has that type of synesthesia, too! She told me she never talked to anyone about it growing up because she thought it was just something peculiar about her. Sounds like a great book.

    2. I wrote an article on synesthesia once and heard from people who just realized they had it after reading my article! So cool. I wish I had that particular super power.

      Also, on Celebrity Apprentice last season, the teams had to make some kind of pop song and Dayana Mendoza kept telling the musicians that she wanted the music to be more yellow, and the other contestants had all these reaction interviews like, “What the hell is she talking about? She’s INSANE.” Anyway, I hope someone eventually told her she might have synesthesia!

    3. I’m really getting a laugh at the thought of you and the fam enjoying this book on the loo. Like, Mark throwing open the door, exclaiming, “Jane! Come take a poo! You gotta read this story about the Tunguska Blast!” 

    4. I really don’t understand the idea of bathroom books. Why do people want to hang out there reading? Go in, get whatever you have do done, leave. 

      I sure as hell don’t want to touch a book that lives by the toilet and is handled by people using the toilet. Ick.

      1. Because sometimes it takes people a little while to get things done.  And they just don’t want to sit there looking at a wall.  It really isn’t that uncommon. 

        And… your “Ick” threshold seems a little lower than average.

        Edit: Oh yeah… There is a Seinfeld episode about this. “This book has been flagged”. :)

      2. Then you may want to avoid touching, well … anything in a bathroom.

        I’ve always said that a good library is an important part of any bathroom!

        I also like to take actual baths and read, and if I drop it, hey, it’s just a paperback meant to sit in the bathroom, anyway, so no foul.

        Also, I grew up in a really busy and noisy house and had to share a bedroom — the only time I had any peace and quiet was when I was in the bathroom.  I used to spend hours in there, “taking a bath” (mostly just sitting on the closed toilet, reading!).

      3.  Eh, just wait til you get older. These days, I get a highly significant portion of my reading done in the bathroom. Since I don’t have a tub but do have a European style shower, I have also figured out how to read in there also.

    5. After having seen all of these ‘strange’ books posted recently, I feel that a shout out to Charles Fort is in order. It would be nice to see BB give credit to the man. I recommend his books, The book of the Damned, Lo!, New Lands, and Wild Talents.

        1.  I admit loving that the BB gang frequently goes fortean, it’s my Fort itch has gotten the better of me. It’s like I have some strange version Coprolalia, except instead of involuntay obscenities, I blurt out formerly obscure writers : /

    6. I owned and loved the whole Frank Edwards ouvre as a kid in the 60s, and it didn’t keep me from becoming a mainstream professor.  The best books to read as a kid are those that make you think; you have plenty of years left to get the facts straight.

      (Though I still think that Brontosaurus was a dinosaur, Pluto is a planet, and ants can teleport in and out of your house…)

    7. Read “Stranger Than Science” (or possibly its sequel) at summer camp when I was 11, and it pretty much ended all possibility of sleep for the duration.  A doctor, watching in horror as puncture wounds appear in the arms of a woman who claims she’s being attacked by an entity only she can see?!? Turned me bowels to ice water, it did.

      As for synesthesia, my variety isn’t anywhere near as colorful as some, but I’m curious if anyone here shares it:  I envision the days of the week as a corridor of connected rooms, each one slightly larger and more colorful than the one before, climaxing in a vast and riotous Saturday. 

    8. My mom had a copy of Stranger Than Science as well,  I think she probably got it by mistake from her book club.  It fascinated me, with stuff like the Tunguska Siberia event, and the story of Kaspar Hauser.

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