April 04, 2014

Winning with Poo: thoughts on the Diagram Oddest Title Prize 2014

"A little madness in the Spring
Is wholesome even for the King"

(Emily Dickinson #1333)

At 36, the Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year may be the youngest among the many eccentric traditions of the British springtime, centuries behind cheese-rolling, the Nutters Dance, and the Hare Pie Scramble, but it need harbour no inferiority complex. The prize, which is awarded annually by the book industry trade magazine The Bookseller, lacks neither for prestige -- in fact its custodian, The Bookseller's "legendary" diarist Horace Bent refers to it as "my prestigious prize" - nor for popularity. More people voted for the Diagram of Diagrams, won by Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, than voted for the Booker of Bookers, won by Salman Rushdie.

Greek Rural Postmen and Their  Cancellation Numbers obviously merits its star status, but the Diagram Prize has called our attention to many sleeper glories over the years, including these, a few of my personal favourites:

How to Avoid Huge Ships
Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures
People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
Highlights in the History of Concrete

which are now joined by the 2014 winner

      How to Poo on a Date

Subtitled The Lovers' Guide to Toilet Etiquette, this book answers "one of the most important questions that has played [sic] on the mind of mankind for centuries", according to its publishers.

The runners-up are:

Subtitles are de rigueur with odd titles and are usually prosaic, as in the case above. But Pie-ography's subtitle, When Pie Meets Biography, is perhaps even more satisfyingly odd than the title.

"Anger" van Damme
How to Pray When You're Pissed at God
Here it was the publisher's blurb which was odder than the title. "Have you ever gotten pissed off at God? Moses did. So did Jesus and Anger van rear," I read.

Anger van Rear? Who's that? Some Jean-Claude van Damme rip off?

Reading on, all was revealed. That "van" was just a typo: "Anger van rear its ugly head" the line went on to say. Indeed it van. And proofreaders bow theirs.

The Origin of Feces
 Subtitle: What excrement tells us about evolution, ecology, and a sustainable society

Are Trout South African?
Subtitle: Stories of Fish, Places and People. 

and the one I voted for:

Working Class Cats
subtitle: The Bodega Cats of New York City

Tom Tivman, Features Editor at The Bookseller, was plumping for Working Class Cats to win as well, describing it as "a blend of feline heroism, Brooklyn hipster chic and Soviet realism".

You can get an idea of what's in the book by visiting the facebook page of this laudable awareness-raising initiative supporting "NYC cats who don't get paid for their labour", which contains gems such as:

"ScuzzBucket from Bleeker Street Records wins the fatty award, hands down."

So there you have it, a shortlist which Tivnan announced as one which "taps into the zeitgeist", with something for everyone, from internet cat-watchers to fans of foodie shows, and, "And we have two books about poo".

And this is where I come to the question "playing" on my mind, I might even say "preying" on my mind (but not "praying", pissed off or not):

Is Poo odd?

Although last year's Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop-led shortlist did feature a number of titles on topics of perennial interest and oddity such as penises, knitting and Nazism, and none at all on human waste, the previous year it was again poo, in the guise of Cooking with Poo, which took the prize. Horace Bent recalled "a long tradition" when he announced this year's winner on Twitter, adding in How to Shit in the Woods ('89 winner) and American Bottom Archaeology ('93).

This pairing exactly illustrates my point. Is that first title really odd, or just a title containing a word which clamours for attention? My hunch is that as with people, the truly odd are always the ones who are not aware of being odd:  the aristocrat who goes around in glasses held together with tape, the grown man in front of you in the line for ice-cream, asking a lot of questions about the chocolate dip as the movie is about to start. In fact, the second of those titles, American Bottom Archaeology is wonderful to us in the same proportion as it was ordinary for its authors. American Bottom Archaeology is, they go on to tell us in their subtitle, simply A Summary of the FAI-270 Project Contribution to the Culture History of the Mississippi River Valley.

That's how I see it anyway. I am clearly a minority, given that the Diagram Prize is selected by public vote. In the old days, in the nude mice days and the lengthwise rolling days, Horace Bent decided the prize. He seems as chipper as ever when announcing the outcomes, but he has over the years let slip a comment or two about his dislike for the "intentionally rude".

A pity I didn't come across this 2013 title in time or I could have nominated it:  How To Seduce Women With Good Spelling, subtitled The Three Words You Can Learn To Spell Right Now In Order To Become A More Successful Lover, available on Amazon for kindle (never more apt), author a certain "Emma R".

Emma R? Emma R? Why does this sound familiar?

 Why of course!

Emma Rouault was the name of that irrepressible reader of romantic novels who made the big mistake of marrying the dull, definitely not odd, Charles Bovary.

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 11:27


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