Cameron Tuttle,
The Paranoid's Pocket Guide
(Chronicle, 1997)

Forget Stephen King. Forget Freddy Krueger. Forget any of those so-called "horror" classics. If you want to see something really scary, pick up a copy of Cameron Tuttle's The Paranoid's Pocket Guide.

I'm fairly secure with the world. While I know there are any number of things out there which can kill you or otherwise make your life a less pleasant experience, it was somewhat disconcerting -- nay, terrifying -- to see so many of them compiled in one slim volume of data. No, this isn't the common-knowledge stuff -- we all know you can be killed or maimed by a rampaging tiger, a runaway bus or a stressed-out co-worker with a letter opener and an attitude. This book lets you in on things you probably didn't already know. For example:

• If you sneeze too hard, you can fracture a rib. If you try to suppress a sneeze, you can rupture a blood vessel in your head or neck and die. (p. 9)

• Every year, close to 200 exercisers fall victim to metal seat posts when the seats on their stationary bikes collapse. (p. 44)

• An unusually long yawn can break your jawbone. (p. 99)

• Heading a soccer ball frequently (10 or more times per game) causes mild neuropsychological damage and lowers IQ. (p. 114)

Some items listed here are a little less worrisome to those of us unlikely to be in these situations ... but they cause their share of sympathetic trepidation nonetheless.

• If you urinate when swimming in a South American river, you may encounter the candiru. Drawn to warmth, this tiny fish is known to follow a stream of urine to its source, swim inside the body, and flare its barbed fins. It will remain firmly embedded in the flesh until surgically removed. (p. 41)

The Paranoid's Pocket Guide is a quick and easy read, and Tuttle should be congratulated for both her in-depth research into matters of trivial paranoia and her clever presentation of same. Besides the straightforward presentation of factual statements, generally one to four on a page, Tuttle has a stream-of-consciousness list of basic paranoid fears running in a continuous line along the bottom of every page. Fears represented here run the gamut from "Microwave ovens leak radiation that is slowly cooking my brain" and "The day after I write out a will, I'll die" to "I will get stuck on an airplane suction toilet when I flush" and "Someone steals my phobias, puts them in a book, and it becomes a best-seller." (This sort of thing is a common feature in Tuttle's books.)

Tuttle's Guide is more about clever presentation than it is about clever writing, but she gets full marks for creating an interesting book which is both informative and fun. And terrifying. I dare you to read it without suffering at least a few jarring re-evaluations of the world around you.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

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