Last week, I received a copy of a new panda publication - 100 Facts About Pandas by Claudia O’Doherty, David O’Doherty and Mike Ahern.
It is an extraordinary little book. It has no introduction, no preface, no prologue, no epilogue and draws no conclusion. It is a couple of hundred pages – a double-page spread for each “fact”. These play off just one joke: pandas.
According to its product description on Amazon, 100 Facts “chronicles for the very first time the amazing social, cultural and natural history of the panda, fully illustrated with photographic evidence, drawings and scientific diagrams and shocking case-studies.” That sounds a little like the blurb I might have put on my book. The difference is that 100 Facts About Pandas is completely devoid of facts about pandas. Not one.
Instead, Irish comedian David O’Doherty and his coauthors’ “facts” play around established scientific truths, historical figures or past events that have little or nothing to do with the giant panda. These in themselves are not funny, but the surprise insertion of a panda or two is remarkably effective at triggering a guffaw. I’m not sure another creature could sustain this format so successfully for so long, but the panda manages it.
O’Doherty and his co-authors will no doubt be amused that I struggled with their flamboyant disregard for fact. Take Fact 34, for example: “Owing to a bureaucratic mix up in registration by naturalist Dr Joseph Banks in 1831, the panda bear is officially classified not as a mammal, but as a nut.” The panda then appears in a rather pretty woodcut engraving alongside a shelled walnut.
Surprisingly, I was fine with the panda being a nut, but had a problem with the idea that species might get “registered”, that Banks had a doctorate (‘cos I don’t think he did) and that he could have carried out this taxonomic miscarriage from beyond the grave (he died in 1820).
It’s a cheerful stocking-filler, but it’s not for non-fiction nerds like me.