Check It Out: Nothing to fear in ‘Encyclopedia’



"Encyclopedia Neurotica"

By Jon Winokur; St. Martin's Press, 274 pages

“Encyclopedia Neurotica”

By Jon Winokur; St. Martin’s Press, 274 pages

Not too long ago, my husband and I headed out of town on a much-anticipated road trip. Halfway through the first day of driving, I convinced myself that I had accidentally locked one of our cats in the bedroom closet.

The pet sitter wasn’t going to be arriving for several hours, so I silently stewed and fretted about my trapped cat, imagining all types of terrible scenarios – no litter box, so, goodbye to my shoes; howls of cat anguish so severe that Gracie (the cat) would be permanently traumatized; no food, no water — well, the horrors kept piling on.

When I was finally able to contact the sitter, anxiously asking her, “Did you find Gracie?” she calmly replied, “She’s fine — even met me at the front door.”

Good heavens, I thought to myself, I’m neurotic.

Maybe it’s because I have these neurotic moments that I gravitated toward this week’s book, “Encyclopedia Neurotica” by Jon Winokur. In case you’re wondering (or possible worrying) if this book will make an already neurotic person even more neurotic, I cannot say for sure. But reading about human foibles can be incredibly fascinating, even for anxiety-ridden souls.

For instance, do you or someone you know, feel the need to express buried feelings? That’s called “psychological phlegm.” Afraid of ventriloquists’ dummies? You have automatonophobia (ooh, I think I have this). And here’s one that seems to affect some celebrities: anglolalia. This is when a person has an indescribable urge to speak with a British accent (Madonna, anyone?).

From hollow-tooth syndrome (the “compulsion to torture oneself mentally” over past mistakes and/or embarrassments) to Internet vampires (people who stay online all night, then rouse themselves from their computers at dawn), anyone who has ever experienced an anxious moment will find something to relate to, and/or brood about in this unique compendium.

I’m certain now that not only am I dealing with a mixed bag of neuroses, I’m going through a midlife crisis. A quote from Joseph Campbell proves my point: “Midlife crisis is what happens when you climb to the top of the ladder and discover that it’s against the wrong wall.”

Jan Johnston is the Collection Development Coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at