Stocking Stuffer-Sized Books

Three stocking stuffer-sized books offer explainers on diseases, Southern holiday etiquette, and the letter 'X': Dennis DiClaudio, author of "The Hypochondriac's Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have"; David C. Barnette, author of "The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: Or, If You Can't Fry It, Spraypaint It"; and Craig Conley, author of "One-Letter Words, a Dictionary."

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Every year around this time the publishing industry puts out books that are, oh, just about the right size to fit into a Christmas stocking. They're usually kind of quirky. In front of me, I've got a pile of some that have arrived here at NPR, and we thought we'd give a few of the authors a chance to shamelessly promote their little books. Let's begin with Dennis DiClaudio. His book is called "The Hypochondriac's Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have."

Hello, Mr. DiClaudio.

Mr. DENNIS DiCLAUDIO (Author, "The Hypochondriac's Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have"): Hi. How are you doing, Debbie?

ELLIOTT: I'm fine. Explain to us what's in here.

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Well, these are 45 very bizarre diseases. Either they're bizarre because they have bizarre side effects or they have bizarre ways that you're infected by them.

ELLIOTT: OK. Now I'm going to tell you a couple of symptoms that I've been having lately...

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: OK.

ELLIOTT: ...and I want you to give me the bad news.

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Oh, OK.

ELLIOTT: I find myself being a little bit clumsy. In fact, I fell down in the middle of the street yesterday. I'm having a hard time keeping up with my keys; I keep forgetting where I put them. I'm a little bit emotional. I kind of cry at things I might not normally cry about lately. Any idea of what horrible thing I might be having?

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Well, you could have a disease called alien hand syndrome. The traits of that include a loss of motor skills, memory loss, behavioral changes and emotional changes.

ELLIOTT: Alien hand syndrome?

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Yep.

ELLIOTT: That sounds kind of scary.

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: It's a natural physical problem in your brain, where a dormant second personality kind of seizes control of one of your limbs and, kind of without your say-so, does things, like, you know, picks up glasses and smashes them against the table or unbuttons your blouse while you're in the middle of a conversation with somebody else.

ELLIOTT: So what's my prognosis?

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Well, you're going to be fine physically unless your hand does something to you. If the hand, like, were to decide to pick up a knife and stab you in the thigh, well, then you'd have to go get treated for that.

ELLIOTT: Or if my hand were to--I don't know--slap my boss, I could be out of a job or something.

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Exactly. Yeah. There's a whole bunch of things that could happen; it's very Gothic.

ELLIOTT: So why do you think anyone would want to get this book for Christmas?

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Oh, OK. Well, here's what I'm kind of hoping for: that friends of hypochondriacs will, non-altruistically, buy the book for their hypochondriacal friends. I'm thinking it's the kind of book that I would buy for a friend just to...

ELLIOTT: Send a not-so-subtle message.

Mr. DiCLAUDIO: Exactly. Yes.

ELLIOTT: Dennis DiClaudio is the author of "The Hypochondriac's Pocket Guide to Horrible Diseases You Probably Already Have."

Next in my pile of stocking stuffer books is "The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: Or, If You Can't Fry It, Spraypaint It Gold." The author is David C. Barnette, who joins us from Mobile, Alabama.

Greetings.

Mr. DAVID C. BARNETTE (Author, "The Official Guide to Christmas in the South"): Greetings from the coast.

ELLIOTT: So I must confess I have been known to get out that can of gold spray paint this time of year to really turn magnolia leaves and palmetto prawns into quite the mantel showpiece.

Mr. BARNETTE: You know exactly what you're doing then. Things down South are done over the top and sometimes on a shoestring. And we are, after all, known for what aerosol did down here with high hair, so now we've just put aerosol into the gilding process.

ELLIOTT: Your book navigates some tricky holiday territory--I don't know--like figuring out the proper present for your preacher. It seems that social order can be at stake during the holidays. What kind of trouble can you get into if you send the wrong gift to, say, your kids' dance teacher maybe?

Mr. BARNETTE: Well, you know, the pageantry in the South is a pretty big thing, and you always want your kid to have the solo. If you regift the dance teacher and she knows it, solo's never going to happen.

ELLIOTT: And what about the preacher?

Mr. BARNETTE: The preacher--you know, they get so many gift certificates to religious bookstores and nice religious books, which is a little bit, in the end, like giving lard to a fry cook. So you just have to think a little more carefully about what you give them. And it's a good occasion to splurge because you can actually count your gift to the minister in with your tithe.

ELLIOTT: And actually take it off your taxes come the end of the year.

Mr. BARNETTE: Exactly.

ELLIOTT: David C. Barnette wrote "The Official Guide to Christmas in the South: Or, If You Can't Fry It, Spraypaint It Gold." He spoke with us from south Alabama.

Have a merry Christmas, Mr. Barnette.

Mr. BARNETTE: Thank you. You, too.

ELLIOTT: And, finally, "One-Letter Words, a Dictionary" by Craig Conley. Before I looked at it, I could only think of two one-letter words, I and a, but Mr. Conley has 1,000 entries in his dictionary.

Mr. Conley, let's focus on one letter for examples. I read somewhere that you're partial to X.

Mr. CHRIS CONLEY (Author, "One-Letter Words, a Dictionary"): Yes, X is my favorite. It has the most definitions, about 70. X marks the spot on a pirate's map where treasure's buried. It indicates a choice on a voting ballot and is a cross stitch of thread. It's a hobo symbol meaning that handouts are available. It...

ELLIOTT: Oh, yeah?

Mr. CONLEY: Yeah. X is also an incorrect answer on a test, a rating for an adult movie, a power of magnification, an axis on a graph, an arbitrary point in time and, one of my favorites, a kiss at the end of a love letter.

ELLIOTT: Shakespeare features prominently in your O section. Can you tell me about that?

Mr. CONLEY: Yes. Shakespeare seems to love the letter O, and not just to introduce a phrase as in, you know, `O, Romeo.' He used the letter O to mean a mark of smallpox in the play "Love's Labour's Lost." He said, `O that your face were not so full of O's.' He also used O to represent stars in the sky in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," where he said, `All yon fiery O's.' He called the Earth O, as well, in "Antony and Cleopatra," `The little O, the Earth.'

ELLIOTT: Mr. Conley, what possessed you to even start looking at these definitions?

Mr. CONLEY: Probably my biggest inspiration was a line from the Lewis Carroll book "Through the Looking Glass," in which the character of the White Queen says to Alice, `I'll tell you a secret: I can read words of one letter. Isn't that grand?' So, yeah, over the course of 15 years, I have scoured newspaper articles, magazine features, novels, plays, poetry. As I read for pleasure, I take note of any references to one-letter words that seem to be distinct units of meaning and collect them.

ELLIOTT: Craig Conley is the author of "One-Letter Words, a Dictionary."

Mr. Conley, we found the perfect piece of music to go out on. We think you'll appreciate it.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) You are an X. You are an X. And I, I am an X. I see TV, I see TV and I see U.

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