Odd Book Titles

Each year The Bookseller presents the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. To mark the announcement of this year’s winner, we take a look at 30 years of weird and wonderful book titles.

(This article was originally published at BookStove.com on 19 April 2009.)

At the end of March the winner of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was announced by The Bookseller. A long list of 18 peculiar titles was whittled down to a short list of just six, and then the public were invited to vote for their favourites.

Started in 1978 “as a way to avoid boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair”, the Diagram prize is now in its 31st year (although no awards were given in 1987 and 1991). Last year, to mark the 30th anniversary, a Diagram of Diagrams prize was awarded to the most popular title selected from all the previous winners.

Although some of the titles listed here may seem too weird to be true, all of them are taken from real books. Those that are still in print can be found at your local bookshop or library, or by searching your favourite online store.

Previous Winners

The first winner, Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), set a high standard of oddness for future entries to follow. Happily, we were not to be disappointed. The animal theme has been a recurring one throughout the history of the prize, with winners including The Joy of Chickens (1980), Development in Dairy Cow Breeding and Management: and New Opportunities to Widen the Uses of Straw (1998) and Bombproof Your Horse (2004).

Occasionally, the public vote brings some vulgar, but funny, titles to the top of the list. This can be seen with prize winners American Bottom Archaeology (1993) and Living With Crazy Buttocks (2002).

But the winning titles have been mainly just odd. From subjects of niche industries, like The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today (1984) and Highlights in the History of Concrete (1994), through practical social studies and advice, including Reusing Old Graves (1995) and The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification (2006), to the geographically twisted Versailles: The View From Sweden (1988).

The 2007 prize saw 8,500 votes cast by the public. The result was close, with Cheese Problems Solved and I Was Tortured By A Pygmy Love Queen being narrowly beaten by If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.

2008 Prize

Animals were also a major theme of the 2008 long list, with five of the 18 books involving living creatures. These included All Dogs Have ADHD by Kathy Hoopman, Living With Dormice by Sue Eden, Malformed Frogs by Michael J Lannoo and Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings by Kuzhali Manickavel.

Sadly, only one of the animal titles made it to the short list, finishing a strong second. But, before we reach the top three, let us look at the bottom half of the short list. The unsuccessful titles were Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski, Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Leitai Yang and The Large Sieve and its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski.

In third place this year, receiving 18% of the 5,000 votes cast, was Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D Cash. Dorothy L Cheney’s animal themed Baboon Metaphysics received a 22% share of the vote to take second place.

But the winner of the 2008 Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year went to the bizarrely-titled The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Professor Philip M Parker.

Diagram of Diagrams

The 30th anniversary Diagram of Diagrams prize was awarded last year to the title voted the oddest of all the previous winners. The 15th anniversary Oddest of the Odd prize, in 1993, went to the 1978 winner Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, and this title was seen as the favourite at the start of the voting. Surprisingly, it didn’t even make the top three in the final count.

In third place, with 10% of the votes, was How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992) by John Trimmer. Despite being in the lead for most of the voting period, Gary Leon Hill’s 2005 winner, People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It, could only manage second place with 11% of the votes.

But creeping into first place at the last moment was the 1996 winner with 13% of the votes. Derek Willan’s Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers was voted the oddest book title of the last 30 years.

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