Tag Archives: #FridayReads

April Fools!: Publishing Pranks of the Past

Map of San Serriffe, from the Guardian special report Guardian

Map of San Serriffe, from the Guardian

The connection between April Fool’s Day and the printed word has a long and spirited tradition. Newspapers have a decided advantage in this area, especially when editors are willing to set aside their vaunted reputation for truth just for one day. Magazines and journals, too, have managed to hoodwink their readers on several notable occasions, creating such a stir that you look back and wonder, “How could anybody ever fall for that?”

With a tip of the hat to The Museum of Hoaxes (www.hoaxes.org) and its curator, Alex Boese, here are four of my all-time favorite April Fool’s Day published pranks:

San Serriffe: On April 1, 1977, The Guardian published a special seven-page supplement devoted to San Serriffe, a small republic in the Indian Ocean made up of several semi-colon-shaped islands. A series of articles described in glowing detail the geography and culture of this obscure nation. Its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse; the capital was Bodoni; and the leader’s name was General Pica. The Guardian‘s phones rang all day as readers sought more information about the delightful-sounding holiday spot. Only a few noticed that everything about the island was named after printer’s terminology.

Sidd Finch: The issue of Sports Illustrated dated April 1, 1985 revealed that the New York Mets had recruited a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a baseball at 168 mph.  Surprisingly, the mysterious Mr. Finch had never played baseball before, but he had mastered the “art of the pitch” in a Tibetan monastery. Mets fans celebrated their luck and flooded Sports Illustrated with requests for more information. But this amazing (and obviously too-good-to-be-true) player only existed in the imagination of author George Plimpton, who had left a clue in the sub-heading of the article: “He’s a pitcher, part yogi and part recluse. Impressively liberated from our opulent life-style, Sidd’s deciding about yoga —and his future in baseball.” The first letter of each of these words, taken together, spelled “H-a-p-p-y A-p-r-i-l F-o-o-l-s D-a-y — A-h F-i-b”.

The Norwegian Wine Surplus: On April 1, 1950, Norway’s largest newspaper, Aftenposten, announced on its front page that the government-owned Wine Monopoly (Vinmonopolet) had received a large shipment of wine in barrels, but had run out of bottles. To get rid of the extra wine, the stores were running a one-day bargain sale, offering wine at 75% off and tax-free. The catch was that buyers had to bring their own containers to put the wine in. “Buckets, pitchers, and the like” were recommended. When the Vinmonopolets opened at 10 a.m., Norwegian wine lovers rushed to line up, forming long queues that stretched around the block. According to legend, numerous empty buckets were later seen lying in the streets, left there by people who had realized, while standing in line, that the sale was a hoax

Image courtesy of Jornal GGN- Image of the cow-tomato hybrid prank

The Boimate, from the Jornal GGN

Boimate: New Scientist ran an article on April 1, 1983 about the first successful “plant-animal hybrid” that had resulted in a tomato containing genes from a cow. The cow-tomato was said to have a “tough leathery skin” and grew “discus-shaped” clumps of animal protein sandwiched between an envelope of tomato fruit. The article included clues that it was a joke, such as the names of the researchers, MacDonald and Wimpey, who supposedly worked at the University of Hamburg. But these clues weren’t recognized by the Brazilian science magazine Veja which ran a feature about the new cow-tomato hybrid several weeks later. Veja dubbed the hybrid “Boimate,” and even created a graphic to show how the cow-tomato hybridization process occurred. The magazine was subsequently relentlessly ridiculed in the Brazilian media, until it eventually apologized for its “unfortunate mistake.”

At the heart of these April Fool’s Day hoaxes is the faith readers put in the printed word, a trust that can be easily exploited for a bit of mischief. Caveat lector! (Translation: Look at the date on the calendar!)

This post was written by Senior Development Editor Barry Richardson (thank you, Barry!). Our in-house “book doctor,” he helps improve manuscripts while keeping the author’s voice and expertise–whether it’s heavy-duty editing, reorganization, rewriting, or coaching authors. Prior to joining AMACOM, he worked for 25 years at Prentice Hall (P-H). Visit our website for freelance development inquiries.


Oh the Horror!: Creepy reads for Friday the 13th

Photo of tree and moon at night

In anticipation of Friday the 13th, AMACOM staffers have been discussing their favorite encounters with horror stories. Below are just a few of the macabre tales  that we’ve enjoyed (or been scarred by) over the years. Share your most memorable eerie reads with us in the comments!

Jacket Cover of Pet Sematary by Stephen King A few weeks ago I read a news story about a cat called Bart that literally crawled out of its grave. The cat was hit by a car, and the owner, thinking it was dead, buried Bart in the backyard. The next day, the cat crawled out of the grave, covered in dirt and injured, but very much alive.
The story reminded me of one of my favorite Stephen King books, Pet Sematary. King said that the inspiration for the book was the time when he and his family were living on a particularly busy and dangerous stretch of road. So many pets were killed on that road that the neighborhood kids built a small pet cemetery in the woods. His daughter buried her cat there when it was hit by a car. What terrified the master of terror was that his two year old son Owen was almost hit by a car on this road.
Now back to the tough little cat. The owner took him to the veterinarian and the cat is recovering nicely, and so far doesn’t show any signs of being a zombie or demonic possession. —Irene Majuk, Director of Publicity

Jacket Cover of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary by M.R. JamesIn my last year of grad school, I took a course called “Literature of the Supernatural,” in which we examined texts with various elements of the supernatural from the Renaissance to the 21st century (yes, there was a very long reading list). We read Polidori’s The Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, several works by Poe, and many others, but the most disturbing piece (although not necessarily a horror story) that I read that semester was a short story by M.R. James called The Mezzotint.” Alone in my apartment on a dark, wintry evening, I struggled to read the rest of the tales in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary.  —Julia Huschke, Sales & Marketing Intern

182540While many books have disturbed me—the hobbling scene from Stephen King’s Misery tops that list—the only book to scare me was The Amityville Horror, which I read when I was 12. Part of it I read while in a chair in my backyard on a sunny summer afternoon, and I might as well have been in a candlelit tomb. It scared me even when I wasn’t reading it. One night I was going to bed when I looked into my father’s office, which adjoined our family room. In the dark windows I saw two glowing red eyes like the demonic piggy eyes in the book. I went stone cold before realizing they weren’t eyes. They were the reflection of the LED clock on father’s desk. Nonetheless, I watched the latest movie version, and I had to turn the DVD off halfway through when the Ju-on-like girl was crawling on the ceiling.There are some images you just don’t want in your head. Eddie Murphy had it right. As much as I was enjoying the book, at the first “Get out!” I should have said to myself, “Too bad we can’t stay, baby.”—Stephen S. Power, Senior Editor

Jacket Cover of Salem's Lot I didn’t know anything about Stephen King when I first read Salem’s Lot, but it scared me in an extremely visceral way. I always loved horror stories and books, but I felt removed from them as a reader. However, the setting and characters in ‘Salem’s Lot were so ordinary that for the first time I felt like I was really in the story. While the idea of returning to your small home town and coming to the realization that everybody, young and old, is turning into vampires may be preposterous, King somehow made it feel “real” rather than gothic or silly. King has often said this book, his second published novel, is his favorite and I can understand why. —Barry Richardson, Senior Development Editor

Jacket Cover of Hold the Dark by William GiraldiIt’s been many years, but anything by Lovecraft is among my horror book favorites. Also, Dracula, which has to be at the top of my list, ‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, The Midwich Cuckoos and The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham, and I am Legend by Richard Matheson. Not a horror book per se, but one of the darkest and most twisted novels I’ve read in many years is something I picked up at BEA last year: Hold the Dark by William Giraldi. And a great title I saw recently: Sick Bastards. Unfortunately it’s an ebook only, which means I’m never going to read it.Bob Nirkind, Senior Acquisitions Editor

I Jacket Cover of The Jaunt by Stephen Kingremember reading a short story by Stephen King called The Jaunt.” I read it at work on my lunch hour in an office with the door closed. I felt scared all the while I was reading, even though my co-workers sat just outside the door. When I got to the end of the story, I jumped up from my chair and quickly opened that door! Needless to say, I didn’t read any of the other short stories in that book, “The Jaunt” was enough for me. I still get chills whenever I think about it. —Janet Pagano, Executive Assistant

Jacket Cover of The Turn of the Screw by Henry JamesProbably due to my Catholic upbringing, but when I read The Exorcist in college, I was sure the devil was under my bed. Also, The Turn of the Screw by Henry James has always stuck with me. It was published in 1898 and is really scary! It’s about a governess who comes to take care of two children at a country estate in rural England. She begins to see fleeting figures of a man and a woman around the property and realizes they are ghosts.  The man was a servant at the estate and the woman was the children’s former governess. The present governess learns that not only did these demonic presents have a sexual relationship with each other, they have begun appearing to the children eager to ensnare them in their web. Possession and even sexual molestation is implied. The fact that it’s not stated but implied makes it even more frightening. —Andy Ambraziejus, Head of Production & Managing Editor