Next up, with the new school year upon us, I look for nonfiction that will inform and entertain. Sometimes, I find nonfiction that is just so out there, I have to suggest them because they’re freaky, fun, and will give readers who equate nonfiction with boring a nudge and a wink, and maybe – just maybe – make a nonfiction reader out of one or three.
The title tells you all you need to know here: it’s a collection of stories and facts about freaky deaths throughout history. There are famous last words, unsettling statistics about Japanese pufferfish consumption, an unbelievable number of stories about people who went over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and unusual methods of execution. Each page has something new and bizarre to be discovered, like the story of 13-year-old William Snyder, who died in 1854 after “being swung around by the heels by a circus clown”. Or Joao Maria de Souza, who was crushed in 2013 when a cow wandered onto his roof and crashed through his ceiling, crushing him. There are also famous firsts: first death by robot, first death by auto accident, first spectator to die after being hit by a baseball during a game, and the first – and only known – jockey to win a race after dying. Illustrations add to the tongue-in-cheek morbid humor.
This is the latest in Portable’s Strange series and is loaded with stories about Hollywood, with a big emphasis on Hollywood’s Golden Age: stories about Rudolph Valentino, Charlie Chaplin, Judy Garland, Elvis, and Audrey Hepburn get a lot of page space; teens may not know the names, but the stories are a hook. There are quotes, Tweets, and facts in here, too, making this an easily readable book with tidbits to make readers laugh or wince. The recent Twitter feud between Armie Hammer and Jeffrey Dean Morgan is in here, and there are highlights called, “Putting the REAL in Reality TV” that squeal on the dubious verity of some of the more popular shows out there. Crazy lawsuits get touched on, too, like Hormel Foods, makers of canned meat Spam, suing Jim Henson Productions over naming a villainous Muppet Treasure Island character Spa’am. It’s morbid in some spots, head-shaking and wincing in others. An additional grab if you have nonfiction readers who love the gossip rags. Illustrated in two-color throughout.