Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women

Ricky Jay

A copiously illustrated, well-researched look at some of the most bizarre “acts” ever to grace a stage before TV came along and wrecked everything. Among the astonishing variety of performers observed is Willard, “The Man Who Grows,” who added six inches to his height onstage; Arthur Lloyd, who could produce virtually anything printed on paper from the 15,000 items concealed in his suit; and Blind Tom, the most amazing musical prodigy in history. But the ultimate is France’s legendary Le Petomane, whose act was based on his incredible ability to mimic animals, play a flute, and blow out a candle from two feet away, all using his most unlikely orifice. Now, that’s entertainment! JM

Publisher: Warner
Paperback: 343 pages

Pulp Culture: Hard-boiled Fiction and the Cold War

Woody Haut

An old-line Marxist interpretation of “pulp culture”—really the hard-boiled detective and crime novels of the ‘40s and ‘50s as exemplified by Thompson, Goodis and Himes. And like most sweeping lit-crit analysis, it’s full of gaping holes. But given the paucity elsewhere of criticism going beyond the usual hard-boiled trinity (Hammett, Chandler, MacDonald), a wise reader can skim the bits about monopoly capitalism and the crimes of the state to pick up tips on many of the lesser known paperback tough-guy writers such as W.P. McGivern, Lionel White and Robert Finnegan. JM

Publisher: Serpent's Tail
Paperback: 230 pages

Freaks, Geeks and Strange Girls: Sideshow Banners of the Great American Midway

Randy Johnson, Jim Secreto and Teddy Varndell

“It’s Alive,” the banners cried from the flapping tarpaulin walls of the circus midway. They lured patrons to shell out for erotica (teasing) and exotica (foreign); two-headed creatures, human artworks tattooed from head to toe; short, tall and fat freaks; chicken-eating geeks and strange, bearded girls. “Sideshow banners document an aspect of our culture that we don’t all want to face: People would (and will) flock like flies, they’ll pay good money to see freaks—aberrations of nature and culture—representations of the grotesque, real or fabricated…” This is the midway as folk art, saved from destruction by artists and other admirers of the crudely painted banners’ strong graphics, humor and lusty garishness.” JM

Publisher: Hardy Marks
Paperback: 169 pages

Memoirs of a Sword Swallower

Daniel Mannix

Originally published as Step Right Up!, Mannix’s account of life as a sword swallower and fire-eater on the road with a carnival in the ‘30s is an acknowledged classic. Who, after all, doesn’t like to read about fakirs, neon-tube swallowing, and freaks? But even people lucky enough to own copies of the long-out-of-print original are going to have to run out and buy this one. As has been often noted, the only thing missing from the original was pictures, an oversight the good folks at V/Search have corrected in spades. This new edition features dozens of photos from Mannix’s scrapbooks. Now we can finally see what Krinko, Jolly Daisy, the Impossible Possible and, of course, Billy the Stripper looked like.
“I probably would have never become one of America’s leading fire-eaters if Flamo the Great hadn’t happened to explode that night in front of Krinko’s Great Combined Carnival Sideshows.” JM

Publisher: V/Search
Paperback: 128 pages

Nightmare Alley

William Lindsay Gresham

A chilling novel about a guy determined to claw his way to the top of the heap no matter what. Stanton Carlisle rises from humble sideshow magician to spiritualist reverend who preaches to a gullible, moneyed flock that doesn’t know it’s all really done with mirrors. But his real secret is to find people’s deepest needs and fulfill them, while taking them for everything they’ve got. Of course, this being the classic carny noir novel, an ascent must be followed by a descent and Stanton’s ride down to the bottom is a grim piece of poetic justice with none of that goddamned happy ending stuff they had to stick onto the movie. After all, geeks aren’t born—they’re made. JM

Publisher: Carroll and Graf
Paperback: 275 pages