Friday, March 4, 2016

What's in a name?

Or what's in a title?
I have always wanted to write a book called ‘Tap dancing my way to social ridicule’. I think it could be my autobiography. For those of us who have thought long and hard over titles you might like to consider entering a competition for The Diagram Prize, an award for the oddest title of a published novel. 

At some point in the bar at the Frankfurt Bookfair in 1978 Bruce Robertson must have been in that post Prosecco haze and thought 'wouldn’t it be good to have an award for the most odd book title ever seen?' Fortunately for us, he voiced that opinion out loud and the Diagram Prize was born. The inaugural winner was called ‘Proceedings of the second international workshop on nude mice’.

Nude mice? I wonder if there was a workshop for the international best dressed mouse would it be wearing moleskin?

The diagram prize is now run by The Bookseller magazine and the winner receives no money but is rumoured to win a ‘passable bottle of claret’.
In 2015 the winner was a book called ‘Strangers have the best candy’ by Margaret Meps Schulte. It’s a nice little book written by a lady who travels everywhere on her own and makes a point of having very long conversations with every stranger she meets. I think she used to travel with me on the number 12 bus from Peckham to Trafalgar Square.

It won over a book called ‘Nature’s nether regions’ (which I think is a history of genitalia) by Menno Schilthuizen. I think he used to sit beside me on the bus as well. Alongside that was the much more sensibly titled ‘Where do camels belong’ by Ken Thompson. I do wonder whether the author got the hump when he didn’t win. 

I have been doddering round the internet and here are some beauties from previous years:

‘The mad woman in the Volvo: my year of raging hormones’ by Sandra Tsing-Loh. This was a memoir of a menopausal woman. Just how brave was the guy who phoned her to tell her that she had not won.

‘Divorcing a real witch: for pagans and the people that used to love them’. Well I guess that some of us must fall in love with pagans and probably fall out of love with them again.
The Bookseller magazine's Tom Tivnan is relieved that this year the titles have moved towards engaging and odd rather than smutty and odd. Historical winners do sound like books that would feature in Carry On films.  ‘How to poo on a date’,’Cooking with poo’ and ‘If you want closure in a relationship start with your legs’.
Some titles are odd but interesting, such as ‘The ugly wife is treasured at home’ by Melissa Margaret Schneider which is an expose of love and sex under Maoist rule in China. I think I'd read that.

One I might struggle with is a book edited by Bo Tian;  ‘Advanced pavement research: selected, peer reviewed papers from the third international conference on concrete pavement design construction and rehabilitation’. 
The 2014 winner was called ‘Goblinproofing’, but I think the real title is ‘Goblinproofing the henhouse.’ It got 39% of the online vote. It is written by Reginald Bakeley and it gives you practical advice on how to banish fairies from your home. Horace Bent said that Goblinproofing the Chicken coup was ‘an extremely important work regarding the best way to protect one’s fowl from the fairy realms most bothersome creatures. Everyone knows well the hazards that dogs, cats and foxes hold for the owners of chickens, not to mention red mite. But the public has recognised the need to illuminate this hitherto under reported nuisance. I take this as a clear sign that people have had enough of goblins in their chicken coups our campaign against the fairy kingdom continues’.
Other titles shortlisted were ‘How to sharpen pencils’, ‘Was Hitler ill?’ and ‘The lofts of North America; pigeon lofts’. 

Previous winners include ‘Greek rural postmen and their cancellation numbers’, ‘Highlights in the history of concrete’ (just how short was that book????) and ‘How to bomb proof your horse’. 

I did find a wonderful headline while researching this; ‘Managing a dental practice the Ghengis Khan way’ by Michael Young. The mind boggles.

A previous winner of the prize saw the sales sore by 1500% within a month of winning. So if you haven’t read ‘Crocheting adventures with hyperbolic planes’, then think what you are missing out on. 

I rather fancy the title ‘What colour is your dog?’ or ‘The Italians one night love child’, what about ‘The myth of the social volcano’, or ‘The generosity of the dead’.
For sheer tittersome amusement a previous winner has the title ‘The big book of lesbian horse stories’ and my own personal favourite ‘Living with crazy buttocks’. The year the Goblinproofing won it beat ‘How tea cosies changed the world’ and a book called ‘Gods doodle: the life and times of the penis’.

The founder of the award does make a serious point. Books such as ‘A short history of tractors in the Ukraine’, ‘The Guernsey literary and potato pie society’ and of course ‘The curious incident of the dog in the night time’ all owe part of their success to their odd titles.
 What about a book called ‘Too naked for the Nazi’s’ by Alan Stafford which is a biography of a music hall troupe, ‘Soviet bus stops' and 'Reading from behind: a culture history of the anus’. 

‘Reading the liver: papyrological texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy’ by William Furley and Victor Gysembergh is an academic study on sacrificial sheep. How about ‘Paper folding with children’ by Alice Hornecke which is origami for children not using children.

I am keeping the best till last though. Horace Bent says this book title is not only a trenchant examination of a cult film but would be an excellent theme for a fancy dress party. The book title is ‘Transvestite vampire biker nuns from outer space’.

I need to go now and Goblinproof my henhouse!

Caro  04/03/2016


  1. You really made me laugh, Caro--no surprise there, for you always do--but all the references to body parts made me think of tonight's US Republican Presidential Debate. And with my mind on that, I came across a line line in your post that I'm certain was your subtle way of summing up how the leading Republican Presidential candidate got to where he is today: "But the pubic has recognized the need to illuminate this hitherto under reported nuisance." Thank you for your incisive, on the head, political observation.

  2. What a wonderful way to start the morning! Thanks, Caro. Thanks, Jeff!

  3. You have inspired me once more, Caro. On Monday, I will take a detour on this road which will include my funny title--Never Work for a Jerk.

    In the meanwhile, I will beg to differ with Jeff. "Under reported" in reference to the US presidential campaigns? Are you nuts, Bro? OVER reported--massively OVER reported, especially when it comes to the mouthings of greatest blowhard in the history of American politics. If the media had not made him the center of attention, we may not be the laughing/shivering stock of the entire world. "Under reported" my foot!!!

    1. There you go again, sis, being all prim and proper and missing the piston driving the humor of the situation under discussion. Ask EvKa to put his finger on the "under reported nuisance" "the pubic" feels "the need to illuminate" in the context of recent Republican debate.

    2. Okay, i get it. I missed the point because I have never watched the Republican debates. First of all they are not debates. Second, there is nothing republican about that party. I defend my sanity and the level of blood pressure by watching movies that take place in the 19th century. I prefer more modern opinions than the ones being mouthed on Fox News.

    3. You are missing the wildest show in the entire history of American political theater. And yes, it does raise the blood well it should...because it cannot be ignored and is very real and very scary.

    4. Now just a second. I'm very picky about where I put my finger. I've got a nose for where to put it, and the Drumphf's pubic features very low and very small on that list.

    5. Bro, I am NOT ignoring the situation. Just not watching it live. I don't watch the news. Visual images are too intense for me. I read and listen. I stopped watching TV news during the Vietnam War. I do tune in once in a great while just to see a few images--as I did when the tsunami hit Japan. I still can't get those pictures out of my mind. I am intensely aware of how scary things are. I don't need to see what Ted Cruz looks like to know that he is insane as presidential choice. And I don't need to see der Trump, PERIOD!

  4. You foot is under-reported, AmA? I've never read ANYTHING about it, so that's very hard to imagine. Surely there's SOMETHING interesting to say about your foot and the life it's had. You could write a book about it: My Foot, or How I Got a Step Ahead of the Crowd.

    Caro, wonderful column, as usual. But when you said:

    "How about ‘Paper folding with children’ by Alice Hornecke which is origami for children not using children."

    You were just being silly, because if it were USING children, then it would be 'Children Folding with Paper.' Or would that be a photography book focused on children DOING origami?

    Now I'm just confused and will probably never again correctly read a book title.

  5. Great post, Caro. I keep a note of things that would make interesting titles, and therefore I've always wanted to write one called 'Exit Left, Pursued By A Bear' or 'Dead Cat Bounce'. One day I shall work out plots to go with them ...

  6. What about 'Goblinproofing the Whitehouse' as an American title?
    'Exit Boris, pursued by a bear.'? Or 'Donald and Boris' Mexican Road Trip' That would make us all happy. If it were one way.