At Christmas 2001 Ben Schott slipped a little home-made booklet inside his Christmas cards to friends. The booklet contained all of the essential information and vital irrelevance he supposed that one needed to get through life, but could never find. Friends loved it.
Schott's festive miscellany included, amongst other things:
• how to fight a duel
• the correct scoring for conkers
• a nursery rhyme about sneezing
• public schoolboy slang
• the thirteen principles of witchcraft
• clothing care symbols
• the structure of military hierarchy
• a list of the countries where they drive on the left
• useful words in Yiddish
• how to wrap a sari
• bed sizes
• the supplier of bagpipes to the Queen
• iceberg sizes
• the brutal methods of murder encountered by Miss Marple
• wedding superstitions
• words where the vowels are listed in alphabetical order
• unusual deaths of Burmese monarchs
• cloud classification
• the cockney alphabet.
The idea was rapidly snapped up by a well-known book company, and subsequently published as a 160-page hardback book last month. Despite a minimum of publicity the book rocketed up the best-seller lists, mostly through word of mouth. Many desperate Christmas shoppers worked out that this book was the perfect solution to all their present-buying problems, so you were probably sent at least five copies last Christmas, assuming the shops hadn’t sold out.
The book is a sudden but well-deserved success. Two follow-ups are already planned. And, I must say, slipping a little booklet into one’s Christmas cards sounds like an excellent idea to me.
This is not Schott's Original Miscellany.