In 1981, Jove Publishing debuted a “No Frills” series of books. This consisted of four books, each of which was supposed to represent a generic version of a genre (science fiction, western, mystery, and romance). Each book featured a generic cover, styled after the generic packaging for foods.
And to complete their genericness, the names of the authors weren't revealed. But the Internet, of course, has subsequently tracked down who they were. As posted on Bill Crider's blog:
Terry Bisson, who was one of the instigators of this project, reports:
Mystery was written by Clark Dimond, a men's mag editor/writer who also wrote for comics.
The Romance was written by Judy Coyne (former Glamour mag editor) nee Wederholt
The SF was written by John Silbersack, SF editor and now an agent.
The Western was by Vic Milan (SF author)
We were working on a No-Frills Besteller (by me) and A No-Frills movie (by film critic David Ansen) when the series was dropped.
My partner selling the series was Lou Rosetto who went on to found WIRED magazine.
So what were the plots of these 'generic' novels? Here are some summaries I was able to find online:
Science Fiction (via Goodreads)
"A space cadet is called to the commander's office at the moon academy. His father is the lone known survivor of the Pluto colony, and asks for his son to join him in the search for what happened. They assemble a crew and blast off to Pluto, where they stumble upon few clues but several surprises."
Western (via Goodreads)
"It begins when Kid Smith arrives in town and almost immediately finds himself in a bar room brawl. He’s soon menaced by the town’s two factions. Those wearing black hats are led by a corrupt judge and those wearing white hats are led ….by a corrupt mayor. Both want their hands on the widow West’s land but Smith has taken a shine to her and vows to protect her and her property from the two no-good skunks and their henchmen."
Romance (via NY Times)
'''Romance' is complete with everything the cover claims - a kiss, a promise, a misunderstanding, another kiss, a happy ending -plus an alarming trial marriage condoned, nay, arranged by the Mother Superior of a Virginia hunt-country convent."
Mystery (via Bill Crider)
"The story itself is pure pulp, with corpses piling up at an amazing rate. The unnamed first-person private-eye narrator is given a mysterious cassette tape. Someone's killing to get it because although to the p. i. it sounds like a song, it has the power to cloud most men's minds. Most women's, too. Whoever has the tape can control the world."
Back in 1881, Dr. Thomas Dwight of Harvard Medical School authored Frozen Sections of a Child, which sounds like the kind of book one might find in the library of a serial killer. As the title indicated, the book consisted of anatomical illustrations of frozen cross-sections of a three-year-old child.
In the preface, Dwight helpfully included advice for those readers who might want to create their own frozen sections of a child:
My experience with frozen sections enables me to offer the following directions for making them. First, be very sure that the body, or part, to be frozen is in precisely the position you desire, and that there are no folds or indentations in the skin. I always use natural cold when possible. Weather much about zero (Fahrenheit) is unsatisfactory; but if the part is thoroughly chilled by several days' exposure to a pretty low temperature, a night of 10° may possibly finish it. Salt and ice, or snow, no doubt, will answer the purpose, but much time and patience are required. It is essential that the melted ice should have a chance to run off. The body should be frozen like a rock—so much so that the operator cannot tell whether he is cutting bone or muscle. Tooth is the only tissue he should be able to recognize. The sections should be made in a cold room, with a very sharp saw that has been chilled. When a section is cut, its surface is obscured by a thick half-frozen saw-dust, which is doubly thick if the freezing is not quite sufficient. It is wisest, if time allows, to remove this at once, which is done by pouring a little hot water over the section and brushing or scraping it off rapidly and carefully. This is a very delicate part of the process, and its successful performance has much to do with the beauty of the specimen. If it is to be kept, it should be laid on a piece of glass or wood, and placed at once, while still frozen, in cold alcohol.
William A. Gold of Australia had the dubious distinction of being named the least successful writer ever in the 1975 edition of the Guinness Book of Records. To my knowledge, Guinness never awarded this record to anyone else.
Gold gained the title because, as of 1975, he had written at least eight novels and 100 short stories, but none of them had been published, despite his best efforts. His writing had only ever earned him 50 cents from an article published in the Canberra News.
I've only been able to find the titles of two of Gold's book. One of them was John Lewis Seeks a Mission, which he submitted to the Adelaide Advertiser $2000 Literary Competition in 1966. (Obviously, he didn't win.) The other was One Best Seller: A Satire on the Publishing Game. The Sydney Morning Herald described this as dealing with "the adventures of author Eric Bellamy, literary agent Lawrence Templeton, and the latter’s attempts to get Bellamy’s novel, Sibelius on Sunday, published." Gold eventually self-published this novel in 1984. (and it's available for purchase from some used book stores in Australia.)
Over the course of a decade, from around 1965 to 1975, Joseph Feldman managed to steal 15,000 books from the New York Public Library. He was caught when firemen entered his Greenwich Village apartment while responding to an alarm in his building and discovered all the books, piled up everywhere. When asked why he had taken them all, Feldman responded, “I like to read.”
Arizona Daily Star - Sep 27, 1975
In the 21st century, playwright Erika Mijlin was inspired to write a play, Feldman and the Infinite, about the incident. It was first performed in 2008. Her description of it:
In 1975, Feldman, a 58-year-old lawyer in New York City, was discovered to have stolen 15,000 books from the New York Public Library. He had rented two or three apartments in the West Village specifically to store these books, and it took 20 men, 7 truckloads over 3 days to remove them all. Feldman and the Infinite is a play that ultimately invents Feldman’s motives, and speculates about the universality of his quest - seeking knowledge and enlightenment, and finding what appears to be randomness and chaos.
First published in 1981. It included translations for phrases a farmer might need to communicate with his workers, such as, “Clean up your camp. You live like a f**king pig.”
One of the authors noted: “This is a practical book. This is not a grammar book. If you want to have beautiful Spanish, you can get your grammar books and go to school. If you want to be practical in a farm case, you have to know the slang. People use the language.”
I just saw the news that Ricky Jay died yesterday in LA of natural causes, age 72. He was best known as a magician and actor, but he was also a towering figure in the study of the odd, esoteric, and weird. His book Learned Pigs & Fireproof Women is an all-time classic of the genre. We've had it on permanent rotation in our sidebar list of recommended books for a while. It was first published in 1986, but I only discovered it in the early 1990s, when I was at grad school. I thought it was amazing. One of my favorite books ever. And I've been a huge fan of his ever since. He'll be missed!
The elephant was brought to Marshall Fields in Chicago as a publicity stunt. She was to rubber stamp copies of a new children's book called THE ELEGANT ELEPHANT. Unfortunately, the elephant did not want to get back on the elevator to leave the building after the book signing. They were forced to build a ramp to the third floor for the elephant to walk down to leave Marshall Field's.
Books Selected and endorsed for Pure Weirdness by Your WU Team
Who We Are
Alex is the creator and curator of the Museum of Hoaxes. He's also the author of various weird, non-fiction books such as Elephants on Acid.
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.
Our banner was drawn by the legendary underground cartoonist Rick Altergott.