The trivia freak in me always finds it hard to resist novelty books, because I get my fix of perfectly useless information, and enjoy some eye candy at the same time.
Last year, as I was browsing through the bargain bins (as usual), I discovered Michelle Lovric, who’s created over a hundred illustrated novelty books! I actually recognized the author because I like novels set in Venice, and I have her novel, The Remedy, in my TBR. I bought her book, Weird Wills, for P45, and decided to search for more of her books on BookMooch, which has yielded another: Deadlier than the Male, which I mooched from abroad. Both are beautiful hardbound books that showcase Regency and Victorian etchings like the ones in the oracle I reviewed last April.
Weird Wills & Eccentric Last Wishes (Book #98 for 2009) is a collection of absurd bequests of notable figures throughout history – world leaders, philosophers, artists, regular (but weird) folk, and most interestingly, great authors!
Here we find out that Peter Pan author James Barrie’s last words were “I can’t sleep,” Herman Melville repeated Moby Dick character Billy Budd’s last words “God Bless Captain Vere!” while John Keats said “I feel the flowers growing over me” and Beethoven uttered, “I shall hear in heaven.”
We also learn of some very strange last wishes: a lady who left a sum of money for the yearly upkeep of her three goldfish; a Lodovico Cortusio who forbade mourning at his funeral (anyone found weeping would be disinherited, and the person who laughed the heartiest would be the principal heir); a man who bequeathed his dismembered body parts to his relatives; Anna Pavlova’s request to get her swan costume ready; and Harry Houdini wanted a bronze bust of himself on top of his grave.
I like it because it’s a funny book about a grim topic, and I was quite entertained from cover to cover. Here is a preview:
The second book for today, Deadlier than the Male: dangerously witty quotations by women about men (Book #99 for 2009) reads like a feminist manifesto, with spirited declarations from women who are quite passionate against the opposite sex.
English designer Susan Wolstenholme says, “I am tired of being a free finishing school for men;” Lucrezia Borgia quips, “My husbands have been very unlucky;” and Erica Jong scathingly states,” Beware of the man who picks your dresses; he wants to wear them.”
And there is a funny poem by Lynn Peters that parodies Wordsworth (entitled Why Dorothy Wordsworth is not as famous as her brother):
“I wandered lonely as a…
They’re in the top drawer, William,
Under your socks –
I wandered lonely as a –
No not that drawer, the top one.
I wandered by myself –
Well wear the ones you can find.
No, don’t get overwrought my dear, I’m coming.
“I wandered lonely as a –
Lonely as a cloud when –
Soft-boiled egg, yes my dear,
As usual, three minutes –
As a cloud which floats –
Look, I said I’ll cook it,
Just hold on will you –
All right, I’m coming.
“One day I was out for a walk
When I saw this flock –
It can’t be too hard, it had three minutes.
Well put some butter in it. –
This host of golden daffodils
As I was out for a stroll one –
“Oh you fancy a stroll, do you?
Yes all right, William, I’m coming.
It’s on the peg. Under your hat.
I’ll bring my pad, shall I, in case
You want to jot something down?”
While I don’t share all of the sentiments in this book, what I really enjoyed was the pairing of the quotations with the melodramatic illustrations, which definitely make the text more fun to read.
Now that I know she has over a hundred of these books, I am now on a quest to hunt for more of them. My cousin Dianne has her book How to Insult, Abuse and Insinuate in Classical Latin and I’m green with envy! This is another fun set of books to collect, and I look forward to reading more of Lovric’s books in the future.
My copies: both hardcover with dustjacket
My rating: Weird Wills 4/5 stars; Deadlier than the Male 5/5 stars
*cover photo: endpaper detail from Deadlier than the Male