Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Monster Spotter's Guide to North America

A former student, Natalie Jabbar, who writes an excellent column for the Stanford Daily, gave me a copy of The Monster Spotter's Guide to North America. The publisher sent her the book in the hopes that she'd review it. She has declined, so I will now do the honors.

This is by far the best field guide to North American monsters that I've read this year. First off, the cover is waterproof, an important consideration since many American monsters live in lakes and swamps. The text, by Scott Francis, takes an appropriate tone on the whole endeavor. From the introduction ("The Perils of Monster Hunting"):

Monsters are illusory--another one of their character flaws. Chasing after evidence of them can cost you more than your life. You could lose your livelihood, your spouse, your friends, your credibility, your sobriety and your sanity. So where does that leave you?

Like me, maybe you really like monsters. You watch Buffy and her friends go out and dust themselves a vampire, or cage a werewolf, and you think about going to your job the next day and it really, really, sucks. You wonder why you can't live your dream and chase after monsters. You don't even care that much if you get superpowers or not--you could just work out a lot and train to be proficient with weapons. Then you remember that monster hunting doesn't pay and that just yesterday you dropped fifty bones at the comic book store.
The monsters themselves are organized by geographic region, with, I'm pleased to note, particular emphasis on the Midwest, where both the author and illustrator are from. Notable here are the Guyascutus, whose only agreed-upon characteristic is its "legs of adaptable length"; and the Lake Leelanau monster, which can disguise itself as a branch and is conveniently located in a lovely vacation spot with good restaurants nearby. Each entry begins with a well-thought-out quick-reference box and is categorized using a truly brilliant series of logos (a pair of leathery wings for flying monsters; a webbed hand for reptilian humanoids, a furry face for Bigfoot-type monsters, etc.). Many though not all of the entries are illustrated by Ben Patrick, and he manages to make the monsters look both humbled and pleased to have been included.

A few of the entries, however, seem perfunctory, perhaps due to lack of any information, reliable or not--but why be perfunctory about a monster? For god's sake, man, make something up. Add something to the lore. It certainly doesn't take much to do so--one drunk guy staggering home can see a raccoon and spawn a dozen articles in the local paper.

Anyway it's a good book and you should probably buy it. Thanks, Natalie!


Natalie Jabbar said...

You're most certainly welcome. I'm glad you got so much more use out of it than I ever could. I think you should embark on a monster spotting trip as soon as possible. =)

Iwriteyouread said...

I just stumbled upon this book in a little bookstore that I had never been to. Kudos to you for reviewing it, your frined for passing it along, and the authors for creating it.

Not that I need another silly hobby, but I will give this a shot.