I have long been a fan of all things tacky, kitschy, and retro. Some of my most prized possessions came from yard sales and thrift stores, apparently too awful or weird for their owners to stand any longer. I also collect Better Homes and Gardens books that are older than me. And I look forward to the day I can buy a house with loud wallpaper and bright orange shag carpeting, in which to display my terrible treasures. Imagine my delight when I found a whole genre of books which mock the dated fads of yesterday.
James Lileks more or less founded this anti-nostalgia movement with The Gallery of Regrettable Food, which explores the glistening, gray cuisine and ominous food photography of the past. The gallery originated on Lileks’ website, as did the follow-up project: Interior Desecrations: Hideous Homes from the Horrible ’70s*. (Take a look at the online precursors, and maybe you’ll see why the full-fledged books had me practically sobbing with laughter.) Lileks’ third book, Mommy Knows Worst: Highlights From the Golden Age of Bad Parenting Advice, will make you wonder how any boomers survived their childhoods. Finally, he returns to mid-century dining with Gastroanomalies: Questionable Culinary Creations from the Golden Age of American Cookery.
Of course, several authors have taken shots at our culture’s most awkward phases. For more food-related mirth, try The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan: Classic Diet Recipe Cards from the 1970s*, by Wendy McClure. Fashionable crafters will enjoy The Museum of Kitschy Stitches: A Gallery of Notorious Knits by Stitchy McYarnpants. While a lot of Bad Taste has certainly happened since 1990, The Encyclopedia of Bad Taste is still a valuable resource on historic crassness, from Chia-Pets to Charo. Mental Hygiene: Better Living Through Classroom Films 1945-1970* by Ken Smith is both a legitimate study and critique of the industry, and an outrageously funny book. (To see examples of actual Classroom Films, check out the Coronet Instructional Films page at the Internet Archive.) And I suppose the only thing I need to tell you about Happy Kitty Bunny Pony: A Saccharine Mouthful of Super Cute is that the commentary was written by that Mike Nelson, of Mystery Science Theater 3000 fame.
Be warned – after reading these, you might find you don’t completely hate velvet paintings, and you’d almost be willing to learn macramé. But if you decide to try grandma’s frightening Jello Mold, I claim absolutely no responsibility for the consequences.
(*Sadly, a few of these books are not currently available at CLP, or even in the whole county-wide catalog. These things occasionally happen even at the best of libraries, and someone’s probably working on it even as we speak. But you can also request titles we don’t own using the Interlibrary Loan System