Before Snopes and Wikipedia, before the Web itself, there was The Straight Dope by Cecil Adams, a column of “answers to the questions that torment everyone.” Was it true what they said about Catherine the Great and the horse? Why does hair turn gray? How do they get the stripes into toothpaste? How come you never see baby pigeons? Does water go counter-clockwise down the drain in the southern hemisphere? The column started in 1973 in the Chicago Reader, but I’m pretty sure I first came across it in a local weekly in Ithaca (possibly The Grapevine), and later in the Baltimore City Paper. The copyright page on this paperback is dated 1984. The column is still published, and is available on the Web, but in an age when any and all trivia is at our fingertips, it feels a bit beside the point. Cecil did have an engaging and combative prose style that was entertaining, though his true identity remains a mystery. Many, including Wikipedia, suspect the writer is the man identified as his “longtime editor,” Ed Zotti.
This Old Book started as a Tumblr, which is also archived on Palafo.com. These are books that have survived many purges from my shelves over decades, with a few comments about why I have held onto them.