By James Lileks. Crown Publishers, 176 pp, $29.95, hardcover
Humour's always hard enough to convey, but when it hinges on hilarious captions for photos, you've got to see it firsthand. Otherwise, lines like "The night has a thousand eyes. And so does the main course", and "Our first recipe. Broiled Abominable Snowman Penis" just don't seem that funny. Maybe that's why the other people on the bus edged away as I giggled uncontrollably through Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations From the Golden Age of American Cookery.
This is American author and blogger James Lileks's fourth catalogue of vintage cooking gone wrong and, like the homemakers of yesteryear he targets, he's sticking to what he knows. Gastroanomalies revisits favourite Lileks touchstones made famous in his debut The Gallery of Regrettable Food: food that looks like poo; recipes that prove you're gay; when enough meat becomes too much; and the terrors of aspic. They all get the sardonic Lileks treatment.
Some of the captions are tailor-made for the photos, like the one accompanying a lurid shot of gingerbread men stuck atop candied apples: "When Count Chocula took over Candyland, he had all his opponents impaled and displayed outside the castle. It had the effect of encouraging dissent, as he knew it would." Other write-ups are just silly: "The 'gang' will love your Cholesterol Accordion! It's crustless bread slathered in mayo and butter, with circular divots of processed meat of indeterminate origin. No one will dare touch it. Hell, look at it long enough and your arteries will silt up."
Is that enough to warrant a whole book? If Lileks's work stops even one person from setting meat in jelly or making cake out of fish, then he's done the world a service and deserves our most fervent support.