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GEE, THIS BOOK SORTING in the garage is fun. I pulled out The BEST of Everything, 1980, to see how hopelessly outdated its choices were.
However, I was now missing the point of why I bought it in the first place. It was 1989 in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, no doubt when visiting my mom upon return from a European trip. (Dillsburg is just southwest of Harrisburg, about a third of the way to Gettysburg). The book wasn’t all that old then, but its concept was an interesting one: Editor Davis assigned 20 experts to pick their categories’ Bests in everything from Animals to Communications to Films to Law and Crime to Politics to Women’s Fashions.
Davis wrote, “Our aim has been to provide a lively, stimulating guide which is both useful and entertaining. The Guinness Book of Records was launched to settle arguments. The Best of Everything is bound to start them.”
Here’s a sampling of its idiosyncratic tidbits.
Best Sexy Animal. British naturalist Gerald Durrell said, “For gracefulness of movement, size and lustre of eyes, length and thickness of eyelashes, the female giraffe is incomparable. True, when she chews the cud, the ball of food rather startlingly travels up her neck like a lift and she does have to spread her legs very wide in order to drink, but if there is reincarnation, no-one should have any complaints if they come back as a male giraffe.”
Best Garbled Communication. David Taylor cited, “The First World War saw the first use of wireless telegraphy under battle conditions but the equipment was primitive and the operators unpracticed. One crucial message from the front—SEND REINFORCEMENTS, WE ARE GOING TO ADVANCE—is said to have been received as SEND THREE-AND-FOURPENCE, WE ARE GOING TO A DANCE.”
This one reminds me of the English/Russian/English translation that rendered the college incident “Your son suspended for minor offenses” to “Your son hanged for juvenile crimes.”
Films. I have no quibbles with Alexander Walker’s choices for Best Film (Recent) Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, 1963; and Best Film (Past) Citizen Kane, 1941.
My favorite line from Dr. Strangelove is President Merkin Muffley’s “Gentlemen, you can’t fight here. This is a War Room.” My favorite from Citizen Kane, “Rosebud.”
Best Short Judgement by a Judge. British barrister Fenton Bresler shared, “In the case at Whitechapel County Court a defendant was protesting to Judge Albert Rowland Cluer (1852–1942): ‘As God is my judge, I did not take the money’—only for His Honour to rule: ‘He’s not. I am. You did.’ ”
Literature. Anthony Burgess’s Best Epigram choice is Oscar Wilde’s from The Importance of Being Ernest: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
Burgess’s choice for Best Opening to a Book comes from the Memoirs of Harriette Wilson (1789–1846): “I shall not say why and how I became, at the age of fifteen, the mistress of the Earl of Craven.”
For no particular reason, I’m reminded of a Bulwar-Litton Fiction Contest entry: “After The Rapids, the river widened.”
The Punch cartoons are fun as well. All in all, I’m glad I visited Dillsburg in 1989. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022