February 17, 2009
Riddle Me This: A World Treasury of Word Puzzles, Folk Wisdom, & Literary Conundrums
By Phil Cousineau
Barnes and Noble Books
viii, 184 p.
This treasury is riddled with poor copy-editing and feeble translation. There are riddles meant to be impossible alongside punning ones. Ones that are culturally or geographically specific, or fit certain technological eras, appear with the more universal, just as folk riddles adjoin literary ones. There are certainly some fine examples among the three hundred here, and some attempt at organization was made. But the whole lot is too haphazard. All but the barest information about cultures, languages, and contexts is missing, disappointing any scholars. The book doesn’t work well as a parlor amusement, either, because of how widely the difficulty varies. The list of source books may be the most interesting item. The riddle can be powerful, encapsulating strange perspectives and inviting a person to try on new ways of thinking, as the ancient Greeks knew, as Emily Dickinson knew. But when a riddle compendium is presented as a jumble of tricky conundrums, it does little for the form’s reputation or for readers.