A book -- subtitled "A Directory of the Fringe: Mad Prophets, Crackpots, Kooks & True Visionaries" -- written by the Rev. Ivan Stang and published by Simon & Schuster in 1988. It is significantly dated in a number of ways, but if you can find it, it's still worth reading, both as a historical artifact and as a wonderfully fun and funny book. 

To understand this book a bit, you should keep a few cultural/historical elements in mind. First, this was before the Internet -- or at least before the time of widespread use of the Internet -- and communicating with people through the mail was still something people did. Yes, there were telephones. Yes, there was television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and books. But the mail was a good way to communicate with friends and family -- and people you didn't know at all. Sending off a self-addressed stamped envelope (or SASE) to a company or organization so you could get a free pamphlet of some sort was not unheard-of. 

Second, this book landed just before the peak of the so-called Zine Revolution. Small fan-created magazines had been around for decades, but around the '90s, zines were everywhere, fueled in part by the Riot Grrrl movement. There were still lots of zines for science fiction, but there were more than ever for music, particularly punk rock. Along with that came an explosion of personal zines, sometimes crafted by one person, sometimes by several, focused on art, news, politics, literature, comics (and comix), queer culture, and much more. There were even zines about other zines -- the venerable "Factsheet Five" had dozens of pages of zine reviews in every issue. 

And finally, there is the Church of the SubGenius, a joyously deranged parody religion focused on satire of American commercial culture, mid-century UFO conspiracy theories, wild art mashups, and their messiah, pipe-smoking salesman J. R. "Bob" Dobbs. The author of "High Weirdness by Mail" is also the founder of the Church of the SubGenius, and the church's style of evangelical anarchy is present throughout the book. 

So with all that in mind -- what is "High Weirdness by Mail?" It is essentially a collection of people, organizations, and publications with non-mainstream beliefs, complete with point-and-laugh commentary and addresses so you could contact the organizations and ask for your own copies of whatever madness they were offering. Essentially: "Hey, want some mail from crazies? Send a couple bucks to these people, and they'll send you magazines about aliens or Jesus or orgone energy or what-have-you." 

The book was divided into 20 chapters, usually self-explanatory but often overlapping with other categories: 

There's a lot of mockery, seesawing from insulting putdowns to more oddly affectionate putdowns. Stang has built his career as the founder of a parody religion, so he's got long-standing interest and fondness for people with weird and extreme beliefs, particularly the ones that don't really harm anyone. If you're a hate group, he has no patience for you. But among the rest, it's not unexpected to find some of the craziest organizations described with respect, admiration, and compassion, even with the heavy mockery.

The biggest weakness of the book is how dated it is. It's over 30 years old. Very few of the publications and organizations profiled exist anymore. A few years ago, Stang posted a list of online links to a number of the groups from the book -- but even these are already out-of-date. And it's also dated because it's a downright antiquated way to go looking for weirdness. Stamps are more expensive than ever -- and you can find a billion gibbering lunatics on Twitter for free! 

I love the book because it's funny, it gives me a nice twinge of nostalgia, and because, like Stang, I'm fascinated by people who have significantly strange beliefs. But I also wonder if I should be looking at this book as a dark preview of our modern world, where unhinged conspiracy theorists and madmen control the government and the media...

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