I also love a well-written factual book. My preference is for history around the Napoleonic era, but the critical thing is the "well-written" part. I think Fergus Fleming is a masterful writer, weaving the historical facts into a mesmerising story. All his stuff is great, but his masterwork is probably "Barrow's Boys", the tale of the expeditions sent out by the Royal Navy to explore the world two hundred years ago. Buy it, you won't be disappointed.
However, what prompted this post was walking in to the library today and spotting a book called "Cat Flaps and Mousetraps: The Origins of Objects in our Daily Lives". With apologies to the author, I loathe books like this. They may be be beautifully written and rigorously researched, but the fragmentary nature leaves me cold. So whilst I adore Bill Bryson's travel writings, I'm no fan of "A Short History of Nearly Everything".
These books usually turn up, for me, as Christmas presents. Even as a child, there was some sort of "Fascinating facts" annual that would turn up each year. "Thank you so much", I say, through gritted teeth. Unless it's from my wife, and then I can be bad-tempered about it instead. The book lands on a shelf and sits there gathering dust, unloved, to be browsed briefly during reorganisations or house moves.
One such book turned up this Christmas. “Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops”. Now it actually raised the occasional smile, though I’m not sure I ever chuckled. One thing in the book, though, really annoyed me. Remember my post on Spelling and Punctuation? Go read, please. Well, the book in question does this:
Customer: Apparently innocent query?
Bookseller: Deadpan response.
Customer: Amusing reply that highlights them as a fruitcake.
It’s the … that drives me mad. We’ve already had the punchline, we don’t need the … to signpost “Oh, by the way, that was the punchline. You may now laugh.”
So, no books of lists next Christmas, please. Stick to fantastic fiction and I'll be delighted.