Did you know that some fish actually fake orgasms? Or how about the fact that there is a black market trade for things like antique maps, Bible pages, and orchids? Did you know that the stone highways of ancient Rome were long enough to have encircled the entire world? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live amongst a band of roving bikers?
These are just a few of the odd, offbeat, and strange book topics that are sure to make you obsessed with things you didn’t even know you were interested in. They may not be the eye-catching titles you would normally gravitate towards while browsing the stacks of your local bookstore — who really expects to withstand 317 pages on the economics of major league baseball, after all? But if you flip past the cover and dive into page one, you’ll soon find yourself immersed in a can’t-put-it-down page-turner.
Still skeptical? From the amusing and the intriguing, to the just plain mind-boggling, here are 13 books that will spark your obsession in things you didn’t even know you were interested in. And then you can become THAT PERSON at a cocktail party. You know what I'm talking about.
The Orchid Thief by Susan Orlean
Investigative journalist Susan Orlean has a knack for making the obscure fascinating. Taking you to the remote reaches of the Florida everglades, The Orchid Thief explores the underground world of the black market flower trade, profiling some of the men and women who make their livelihoods from flower stealing, smuggling, and selling. You will not want to stand between these devout horticulturists and their orchids.
The Routes of Man by Ted Conover
This book will teach you everything you ever wanted to know about the shockingly interesting history of roads. Journalist Ted Conover travels through South America, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, exploring roadways from the perspective of truckers, checkpoint soldiers, road-trippers, and more. In The Routes of Man you'll meet an entire cast of seemingly unrelated characters, who are all united by their ties to the byways that connect them — geographically, and in spirit.
Moneyball by Michael Lewis
The quirky Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland As, is the unlikely hero of this odyssey into the economics of major league baseball. By crunching numbers and analyzing largely-unconsidered statistics, Beane drafts a rag-tag team of baseball players that will leave you clinging to the edge of your seat, while rooting for the underdog.
The Island of Lost Maps by Miles Harvey
If the age of at-your-fingertips GPS has you thinking paper maps are a thing of the past, think again. The Island of Lost Maps tells the tale of a most enterprising map thief: Gilbert Joseph Bland, Jr., who successfully stole antique and invaluable maps from research libraries across the United States and Canada. This story of how far one fanatic will go to fulfill his obsession will make you a little obsessed, too.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
If you only ever read one book about bioethics, make this the one. From Baltimore to the deep South, this book traces the journey of Henrietta Lacks: the woman whose namesake HeLa cells have been used in medical research and the development of vaccines, for centuries. Lacks, a tobacco farmer who toiled on the same land of her slave ancestors, received effectively no recognition for her cells — which were taken without her knowledge, and have been so instrumental in medical advancements today.
The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman
This work of investigative journalism reads like everyone's favorite thriller. Following an early copy of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Aleppo Codex, from its original hiding place in ancient Syria to modern-day Israel (via a worldwide tour that slowly robbed the Codex of many of its original pages) The Aleppo Codex illustrates the dangerous value, and political power, that even one single page of writing can have.
Levels of the Game by John McPhee
Never has a tennis match played almost 50 years ago proven so interesting. Focusing on the Forest Hills match played between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner in 1968, this book discusses the strained social politics and racial tensions of 1960s America. When these two players, who come from very different racial, social, and economic backgrounds, meet on the same tennis court, much more than a tennis match is in play.
Hell's Angels by Hunter S. Thompson
Filled with the allure of the road less traveled, this labor of intensely researched immersion journalism puts you on the back of these bikers’ bikes and into these bikers’ minds, sometimes even venturing a glimpse into what lies in the heart of an infamous Hell’s Angel. Hunter Thompson is a writer who partied as much as he wrote, and after reading this book you’ll be ready to get your reveling-road-trip on, too.
Son of a Gun by Justin St. Germain
We're all familiar with the tall tale of Wyatt Earp and the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (...okay, I had no idea what this was either, but I promise it's the stuff of a great wild West legend). This debut memoir takes you to the aptly-named Tombstone, Arizona — an unforgiving landscape where two real-life murder mysteries, one historical and the other recent, are woven together by place and circumstance. Hang on to your spurs.
The Holy Barbarians by Lawrence Lipton
Tons of tweens, teens, and twenty-somethings have already read this book because Rory Gilmore said so — and if you haven't yet, it really is as good as she made it sound. This “story about Venice Beach beatniks, written by a Venice Beach beatnik” will have you dousing yourself in patchouli oil and heading to the boardwalk, alongside the rollerblading Jimi Hendrix impersonator and a skateboarding Chihuahua.
The Fight by Norman Mailer
Mayweather and Pacquiao who? This book takes readers to Kinshasa, Zaïre, circa 1974, for the boxing match known as "the rumble in the jungle." The unparalleled Muhammad Ali faces off against George Foreman (yes, of the famous grill) in a fight so legendary it doesn't even need its own hashtag.
An Unquenchable Thirst by Mary Johnson
This former-nun's convent is nothing like the cosy confines of The Sound of Music fame. Johnson dares to go where few women have gone before, detailing the good, the bad, and the just plain mind-boggling truths about religious life. This book probably won't make you commit yourself to vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience just yet, but it will certainly make you think a little differently about all those terrifying years you spent in Catholic high school.
Fish That Fake Orgasms, and Other Zoological Curiosities by Matt Walker
This title alone is kind of irresistible, is it not? Crack the cover and learn all the weird and wonderful animal kingdom trivia your professor left out of freshman year biology class — including the fact that lady trout really do fake orgasms.