Sunday Morning Bookshelf

I’ve been collecting books for what I call a “Sunday morning bookshelf.” As a kid, I couldn’t get enough of weird, old encyclopedias and creepy Reader’s Digest books, which probably explains my utter obsession with Wikipedia as an adult. A perfect Sunday morning would be grabbing a bowl of cereal, spreading out on the floor in pajamas, and looking up stuff in the dusty books. I’d read about aliens and strange diseases and presidents and bobcats, studying the inky illustrations and choking on the musty-smelling pages.

It seemed like everybody’s house always had a couple of hardcover books about the most random subjects, somewhere stacked on an end table, sitting just out of view but still on display like a bowl of cheap hard candies. The books always had this grim authority about them, like they knew when the world was going to end and our only hope of survival was through them.

These books I’ve been collecting aren’t just for my own personal nostalgia, but to have a library for my future kids, who will probably find the books as stodgy and lame as they’ll find me. As someone deathly afraid of rollercoasters and rickety carnival rides, I’ve already resigned myself to being the “no-fun” parent who will have to stay behind with the camcorder taking a video of the whole thing. Of course, camcorders no longer exist, and this fact will always make me feel a little sad. These days entire lives can be captured in the palm of one’s hand, on tiny cameras and microchips. Back in the day, you had to lug around twenty pounds of gear slung over the shoulder. Family memories weren’t just hard work—they were manual labor.

So there I’ll be, lamenting all of this alone, over by the popcorn stand, while the wife whips around on the the Merry Mixer ride with the kids. Not only am I no fun, I’m fucking morose. Oh well, it happens to everybody eventually—just like growing old and wearing your socks pulled all the way up and crying to that scene in Dumbo where his mom is trapped in the circus cart.

Just kidding. There’s nobody crying. It’s only the dust from these old books.

North American Wildlife

What it is: “North American Wildlife is a book intended to be used. Use it to explore nature—to discover what alligators eat, where Wood Ducks build their nests, why mushrooms are so often found near certain kinds of trees.”

Sample Entries: Twenty-five pages on mollusks, pictures of whip scorpions, and the exact measurements of green sea urchins. It’s 559 pages of rapid-paced, succinct information. Sharks are covered in just four pages and about six hundred words. Shark Week it’s not.

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: Before you could look up random leaves in your backyard on your iPhone to see if they were poisonous, you had to have books like this handy to save your ass. This book breaks down all the forests, bogs, and prairies in North America, listing all of the animals you might find. It’s fun to randomly flip through and discover random animals like pygmy owls and goosefish. Bonus points for mysterious blood stains on front cover. I bought this book at a little old lady church flea market, which makes it extra suspicious.

Vacationland USA

What it is: “Vacationland USA presents a year-round panorama of fun-filled, purposeful pursuits, from snowmobiling in New Hampshire to surfing in Hawaii. How would like to have a cabin by the lake in Alaska? Or ride with the cowhands at your vacation home on the range? Or raft the rapids in mile-deep Grand Canyon? Or laze along on a Mississippi houseboat? Or scale Mount Rainier? In these pages we show you how.”

Sample Entries: It highlights vacation spots with chapter titles like “Pennsylvania Plain and Fancy,” “White Water!,” “Skifarers in the Rockies,” and yes, even “Disneyland.”

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: The formula is winning here: take the seriousness, exoticism, and dryness of wildlife shows and apply it to vacations. The book has a corny dad sense of humor and makes liberal use of exclamation points. I imagine the author(s) of this book wearing suspenders. The book also contains multiple pull-out maps, which only adds bonus dad points.

How It Works: Illustrated Science and Invention

What it is: It’s a book about inventions!

Sample Entries: Covers a bunch of inventions like the electrostatic machine, the thermometer, rod engines

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: The word “inventions” is always exciting. Plus, having this book on your shelf will make you seem super smart.

Disney’s Wonderful World of Knowledge Year Book 1980

What it is: A year book for kids, covering kid-friendly topics loosely relevant to the year.

Sample Entries: There’s all sorts of do-gooder entries such as how to make a time-capsule or how to throw a yard sale. Plus magic tricks, quilt-making, derby races, and environmentalism.

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: This book exudes wholesomeness. It makes me want to eat apple pie until I puke. With a side of cheese and ice cream.

Alien Creatures

What it is: “A fantastic voyage from H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to Star Wars, including science fiction pulps, flying saucers, robots and popular television aliens from Superman to Star Trek.”

Sample Entries: Covers everything monster and alien-related in 1977 pop culture. Chapters include “Flash Gordon and Descendants,” “Low Budget Invaders,” “Galactic Encounters”

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: This book is the reason Sunday mornings exist. It’s mostly a picture book, and the pictures aren’t even that great, mostly fuzzy and in black and white. But it’s the aesthetic that matters.

Mysteries of the Unexplained

What it is: “This book is an almanac of events that defy explanations in commonly accepted terms. Some of the events are chilling; some document seeming miracles.”

Sample Entries: Spontaneous Human Combustion, Monsters, UFOs

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: Everything. It’s a Reader’s Digest classic.

Ripley’s Believe It Or Not

What it is: An illustrated collection taking the best from the (in)famous syndicated cartoons

Sample Entries: Strange facts about animals, strange customs in other countries, weightlifting frogs

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: Ripley’s is a Sunday morning institution and no proper lazy morning bookshelf would be complete without a Ripley’s book.

The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island

What it is: This is a fictional wildlife encyclopedia of Skull Island. “This island is a zoologist’s dream — and a field scientist’s nightmare.”

Sample Entries: Creatures galore: Jungle Flizards, Arachno-Claws, Bear-Crocs, and V-Rexes

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: This book is amazing. It’s a must-have for Kong fans, but it’s also for anyone who enjoys reading the plaques at the natural history museum. This book fleshes out the gruesome and beautiful inhabitants of the fictional Skull Island with full color, extremely-detailed illustrations and descriptions. It’s written from the point of view of a field scientist who went on a expedition and is reporting his findings. It reads not only like an encyclopedia, but also like a great adventure story.

Into The Deep

What it is: “A unique voyage through Earth’s oceans, descending from bright coral reefs to the eternal darkness of the ocean floor.”

Sample Entries: Manatees, arctic jellyfish, vampire squid

Why it’s Sunday Morning-Worthy: Two words. VAMPIRE SQUID. Huge, full color pictures of all kinds of insane things that live in the ocean. Which also reaffirms why I don’t swim in the ocean. Which also reaffirms my no-funness.

11 thoughts on “Sunday Morning Bookshelf

  1. I am sucker for coffee table books, particularly pop culture based ones. We have several that we rotate on and off the table. We have things like Aida, Star Wars, Peanuts Christmas, Roller Coasters, Marvel comics, Looney Tunes, etc. People seem to enjoy checking them out.

  2. I have the Reader’s Digest North American Wildlife book! My favorite sections were the birds and mammals. I tried to copy so many of the pictures when I was a kid. I think I may still have some examples filed away. I have another huge Reader’s Digest tome called Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World. There’s also a RD Grimm’s Fairy Tales set. We had a few copies of the Ripley’s books.

    Also, please send me the aliens one. I need to add it to my collection of mostly animals-and-paranormal.

  3. I get the feeling that where you may lack in the adventure department you will make up for it in imaginative play. If my son is looking for adventure he goes to my husband, but when he’s in the mood to write wacky stories about dogs and draw pictures of bananas driving convertibles, he knows to come to me.

  4. Funny! I have that “How it Works” I’m pretty sure. It has diagrams of air conditioners. I thought I was gonna learn how it works!

  5. This is great! Your picks remind me of a bookstore in Toronto called The Monkey’s Paw. In the window there’s a big stuffed raven and an old typewriter and littering the storefront are all these curios that hipsters around here are buying as “ironic” coffee table books. Contrast that to Sri Lanka, where the kids there actually read these books to learn and you’ll see things like a dusty-bound Flora and Fauna of Sri Lanka featured prominently in train station bookstands.

  6. I used to love these kinds of books. Would love to get hold of that Alien Creatures one.
    These days I actually do some contracting work for RD- Sydney, Australia is one of their main publishing locations. There’s a few of the old unexplained type books in the building’s mini library/archive, which make for interesting reading. They’ve also released a new one, called Mysteries, Facts, Phenomena – which is a mix of genuine oddities and more dubious “paranormal” stuff.

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