Factitious

By Dan Bergstein

While so many news outlets and unmarried aunts will list their favorite fiction books of year, few have the courage to rank the very worst nonfiction titles. Lucky for you, courage is my middle name (in Sanskrit). Here are the least best nonfiction books of 2011:

Your Dog Has Fleas: A Veterinarian’s Story by Dr. Michael Romano, available at most garage sales.

The rise and fall of Michael Romano in the cutthroat world of veterinarian science reads like an Academy Award Winning script, but this reader felt too much of the struggle was exaggerated. Do rookie vets really compete in underground “dog fixing” battles? Is there really such a thing as a swingers club called the Kitty Kats for high-rolling veterinarians? And do vets have that many dog-catchers and ASPCA officials in their back pockets? According to this book, “Duh!” The book comes with a CD of the author’s son’s band playing “Sympathy for the Devil” to accompany the brazen words.

Internet Directory (2011 Edition) by Judith Mitzmiller, available at Judith’s craft table at the Richmond Craft Bazaar.

Once again Mitzmiller challenges the hotshots at Google and attempts to catalog the entirety of cyberspace in one single paperback volume. Sadly, as in years previous, she comes up short. While her section on “Peony Websites” is as comprehensive as you’ll ever need, the quarter page section on “Russia Things” is more than a little lacking. Those interested in finding websites about “Petroleum Engineering” or “Lady Gaga” should look elsewhere. And Judith comes dangerously close to editorializing when she lumps all adult-themed websites in the “No!” section, often underlining the most intense and writing “Eww!!!” next to the entry. That said, perhaps we must commend her for finally including “Jewish Sites,” though the obvious font change to something she calls Times Romanowitz seems a little questionable.

Johnny Carson: An Unauthorized, Unofficial, and Uncertain Biography by Sara Wallbert, available at the lost and found at many airports.

The timid Ms. Wallbert spent twenty years researching the life of the talk show legend for this book, but the author seems afraid of possible legal action. To her credit, the book is factually sound, but each sentence takes care not to be too sure of itself: “Carson first met Ed McMahon in Palm Springs, probably.” “Carson kept to himself during these years, maybe.” “He was, in all likelihood, about to more or less change the late night TV landscape.”

Is It a Raisin? by Mark V. Ringer, with a Foreword by Julia Roberts, available in the garden section of most stores due to a computer error.

This book is part photo essay, part game in which the reader is shown a photograph of a raisin-like object and asked to guess if the object is, indeed, a raisin. The concept is novel, but with more than 90% of the book’s 16 photographs obviously displaying small pebbles or rabbit feces, the challenge is too-easily won. Please note: the Foreword is written by a Julia Roberts, not the Julia Roberts, which explains all the mentions of “Mistic Pizza” [sic], a movie the writer did not appear in, and seems not to have even seen. She does, however, have quite a lot to say about the possibility of raisins on other planets.  

Famous Ducks by Cheryl Altman, Richard Stanwick, Steven Tobias, et al. Available at a few Dollar Stores or in covert verbal transactions with Tobias himself.

This book starts strong — Donald Duck, Daffy Duck, Scrooge McDuck, the Aflac duck — but it loses steam around the fourth page, when it begins offering vague entries such as “That duck from Charlotte’s Web” and “Duck Dodgers,” who we all know is just Daffy in a new costume. The book’s definition of “famous” is further called into question when the authors start listing such third-tier waterfowl as Donald’s on-again off-again girlfriend Daisy, who was never all that famous. Finally, the book’s definition of “duck” breaks down completely as one of the final pages lists “the Vlasic Pickle mascot.” Hey — Storks aren’t ducks, et al.

Hollers and Cents: Understanding The ‘Conomy by R. J. Lick, buried under the magazines in your orthodontist’s waiting room.

The foul-mouthed R. J. Lick uses his unique voice to help simplify the economic crisis with such insights as, “Airlines? Don’t even get me started.” On the plus side: This book rhymes, mostly.

The Rothman Plan: Six Months to the Perfect Stomach and an Unoccupied Afghanistan by Dr. Phillip Rothman, available only early in the afternoon on Tuesdays.

Rothman’s attempt to combine weight loss and foreign policy is noble but unsuccessful. Too much of the book is spent reminding the reader that the Rothman Plan isn’t crazy if we all just give it a chance. The real meat of the book is far too idealistic, with no real-world practicality. Sure, eating only raw food and running eight miles a day should lead to weight loss, and Iranian leaders could indeed “honestly examine their own childhood anxieties,” but the chances of either happening are, let’s face it, slim. The pocket map/calorie calendar is handy, however.

Crisis of Shadows: Debunking the Missile of Truth by Siobhan Milton, available wherever sales associates are unapproachably smug.

This book has no real focus and exists only to stir up trouble and get its author on TV. Here’s chapter four, in its entirety: “According to science, gay marriage leads to forest fires and low birth weights. Tom Hanks isn’t a good actor. All dentists are pedophiles, statistically. There’s nothing wrong with teaching children how to smoke. Jesus was just OK. We must tax dyslexia.”  

 Dan Bergstein is available for weddings and other festive occasions.

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