From The National Post:
The Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year, which began in the 1970s as a pastime for bored merchants at the Frankfurt Book Fair, has grown into an annual literary event, comparable in stature to the Bad Sex in Fiction Award and similarly coveted as much as it is feared.
A shortlist Friday shows the competition is fierce as ever.
The Great Singapore Penis Panic (about koro, a mass hysteria that seems to happen in Asia when people believe their genitalia are retracting into their bodies) is among the early favourites, with strong challenges from a recipe book, Cooking with Poo (which means crab in Thai and is the author’s nickname) and an art text, The Mushroom in Christian Art.
“Never has the debate raged so fiercely as to which books should be put forward for the shortlist,” said Horace Bent, the custodian of the prize. “Which is why this year we have selected seven shortlistees, rather than the traditional six. And what a shortlist we have.”
Run by Bookseller magazine, and initially decided in-house by Mr. Bent and a jury of his choosing, the prize is now voted for online by publishers and booksellers.
Initially a bit of a joke, it has become so popular they have had to fend off what Mr. Bent has described as “self-consciously titled entries,” many of which seemed to imitate the 2003 winner, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories.
While often funny, these deliberately odd titles run counter to the goal of the prize, which is to honour the earnestly clueless authors and publishers who would publish such titles as Butterworth’s Corporate Manslaughter Service (a legal text), 227 Secrets Your Snake Wants You to Know and Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality.
The prize, which includes a magnum of Champagne for the person who nominated the winner, is a celebration of “unwitting oddity,” as Mr. Bent describes it, although even oddity has persistent themes, as the current shortlist reveals.
Mr. Andoh’s Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge, for example, is one in a long line of memoirs by people with strange and funny-sounding, but nonetheless real jobs. Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter, for example, won in 2010.
Two current nominees, Estonian Sock Patterns All Around the World and A Taxonomy of Office Chairs are among dozens of arcane field guides to make the list, including The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich and Versailles: The View From Sweden.
Manuals are also popular. Previous nods have gone to Knitting With Dog Hair, Living With Crazy Buttocks, Fancy Coffins to Make Yourself, Reusing Old Graves, How To Avoid Huge Ships, Italian Without Words, Sexual Health at your Fingertips and The Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition.
Few, however, can compare to the sheer improbability of the 2005 winner, which is still in print: People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders — and What to Do About It.