Monday, June 15, 2009

Non-Existent Books I'd Love to Read

I once had a social studies teacher who described the process of voting this way: "When someone casts a vote for a candidate, they are saying 'I don't have time to run for office, so this is the candidate who is most likely to do the job the way that I would.'" That explanation has always worked for me, and I think the sentiment can be applied in other areas. For example: "I don't have time to write a book on this subject, so I'll see what this person has written." However, there are any number of books that I would love to read, that to the best of my knowledge, haven't been written. I have no ambition to write these books myself, but if any potential authors want to adapt any of these ideas, you can consider one sale already in the bag:

1) The Greatest Mistake of Each President. Forty-three chapters (I'd put Cleveland twice, why not?), each chapter devoted to exactly one mistake that a president made in his term. Though obviously subjective in nature, a well-researched approach would still be instructive. It'd be fascinating to see whether certain mistakes are repeated.

2) Unsung Heroes of American Wars. Two consecutive weekends I watched Book TV on CSPAN-2 and learned about completely unknown people who were instrumental in American war efforts: Andrew Higgins and Tadeusz Kosciuszko. It might not be the most opportune historical moment to extol American military might, but I think there are names that should be made more prominent, and a good book constructed around the theme would help to accomplish this.

3) The Cemetery (working title). The idea of the importance of mobility has been central in American history, but residents of cemeteries are decidedly immobile. On the third hand, their descendants are not. I would love a book in which an author goes to some 19th Century Cemetery and does two things a) a historical (not literal) excavation, in order to reconstruct in print the lives of the cemeteries' residents and b) writes alternating chapters following the descendants of the buried, whomever and wherever they might be. The amount of time and resources to such a project would be daunting, but again, I'm pledging twenty bucks right now to anyone who follows through.

4) The World's Greatest Detectives. I'm actually sure this has been done in some form, but go to a bookstore and you'll notice that the "true crime" genre almost always focuses on antagonists. On the other hand, there has been a lot of fictional portrayals of great detectives (from Sherlock Holmes to CSI and Cold Case). I'd like some more nonfiction about gumshoes, please.

5) The Wikipedia Road Trip. I haven't read very much, if anything, from the travel genre, but I would read a book based around the premise of someone hitting the random page generator on Wikipedia until they got a municipality to come up, then going to that municipality, then hitting the random page generator again. I'll start... and in a moment of extreme irony, I alight on Winner, South Dakota. (The odds of me landing on this page are probably less than the guy who won the lottery after buying a ticket in Winner a couple weeks ago).

6) Flame Wars. Who doesn't love to read Internet flame wars? People passionately arguing about matters of infinitesimal consequence--makes for a good metaphor about our lives. A collection of them would make for a good book.

7) What If? I found out through Internet research that this genre actually exists, so I'm about ten years too late on the idea, and I might have to put my money where my mouth is.

8) Annotated Critical Editions of Classic Literature: I know there is such a thing as annotated editions of books, but what I'm looking for is the experience of getting a critical reading alongside the original text. The way it is now, you read Moby Dick, then if you want a critical perspective you have to go and track down essays. I'd like it if it were all in one place: you read several paragraphs, then you get the critic's take, then you go back to the original text.

9) Annotated Editions of Ghostwritten Autobiographies (with annotations by the ghostwriter): This is probably contractually impossible, but what if the ghostwriter for say, Jose Canseco's Juiced got to go back and fill in what they were thinking as they were constructing the text?

10) The output of a group of monkeys given a typewriter. I know they can do better than the last time.


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