Thursday, July 23, 2009

Playing Doctor

I should like to prescribe a book to all of you who enjoy a good disease now and then. Whether you are an unlicensed medical professional or just an occasional hysteric, it will behoove you to read The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases. Or perhaps it will ill behoove you, as it could just leave you with a literary infection.

The book, edited by medical scholars Jeff Vandermeer and Mark Roberts, purports to be the 83rd edition of Dr Lambshead's extraordinary collection of outré ailments. It includes such entries as “Ballistic Organ Syndrome,” “Jumping Monkworm,” “Logopetria,” “Third Eye Infection,” and the dreaded “Printer's Evil.” Each entry was provided by a different medical luminary. Among the biggies are Dr Alan Moore, Dr China Miéville, Rev Michael Moorcock, and Dr Cory Doctorow.

My favorite article was “Diseasemaker's Croup,” presented by Dr Neil Gaiman. It was such a startlingly clever and well written piece that it plunged me into the depths of depression, from which I am only now recovering. Let me explain. As I was reading the book I thought to myself “what a charming literary jest this is – how very clever – I wonder what sort of thing I could come up with that might fit in with this genteel madness?” Then I read Gaiman's entry. It was so well and imaginatively written that I immediately despaired of ever writing something with that much wit. Devastating

The book also includes excerpts from past editions, stories about the great Dr Lambshead himself, and an outline of the secret medical history of the twentieth century. Invaluable for the researcher specializing in nonsense, it is illustrated throughout.

A word to the people at Bantam Books. Use better glue. Pages should not separate from the spine on the first read. Unless . . . perhaps my volume suffers from a mutation of Printer's Evil. Excuse me, I think I need to wash my hands.

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