Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: What will be the oddest book title of 2011?

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What will be the oddest book title of 2011?
Photo / Thinkstock
What will be the oddest book title of 2011? Photo / Thinkstock

Ever been curious to know more about The Mushroom in Christian Art?

How about a quick flick through A Taxonomy of Office Chairs or A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel (volume 2, no less.)

Those are just three of the books short listed for the 2011 Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year.

This annual prize administered by The Bookseller magazine was initially devised to relieve boredom at the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair. A bottle of "fairly passable claret" was awarded to the person who nominated the oddest book title on offer at the fair.

The prize has since been extended to allow nominations by the public, with judges from The Bookseller and its sister magazine We Love This Book compiling a shortlist, giving preference to titles which are "accidentally odd" over "intentionally odd".

Previous winners include People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It by Gary Leon Hill (2005), The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification by Julian Montague (2006) and Barbara Sherman Heyl's The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution (1979).

The 2011 shortlist has seven rather than the traditional six titles, "in recognition of the high standard of oddity witnessed in publishing last year".

The winner will be determined by public vote, so click here to have your say on whether Mr Andoh's Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge beats The Great Singapore Penis Panic: And the Future of American Mass Hysteria.

I'm picking the latter as a hot contender for the prize. It seems that young or old, references to intimate body parts or bodily functions never cease to amuse.

I was reminded of this while reading the shortlist aloud and chortling at my personal favourite, Cooking with Poo. (Poo it turns out, is both Thai for crab and the author chef's nickname). "Mum," my four-year-old admonished, "I thought you said no more poo or penis talk?" Thus she exposed the hypocrisy in my attempts to divert her younger brother from his current obsession with Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake.

Even now I'll wager you are wondering what The Great Singapore Penis Panic could be about. In 1967 there actually was a mass panic in Singapore, where men believed their penises were shrinking and that they would die. It's a psychiatric phenomenon known as koro in Chinese medicine and the book examines how in the right social, cultural and psychological conditions, human beings can be driven to accept irrational beliefs and take incredible actions as a result.

Want to know more? Of course, that's the idea. Although the Diagram Prize offers no reward for the winning author or publisher, it attracts a lot of publicity and mere mention in the shortlist is almost guaranteed to increase sales of these largely niche publications. In 2009, Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes knocked out Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich to take the prize, and went from selling only six copies per week to shifting 95 copies in the following seven days.

I'm guessing that there are at least a few office chair aficionados out there who will be delighted to discover a whole taxonomy dedicated to their subject of choice.

The winner will be announced on March 30.

Which book do you think should take the prize?

The 2011 Diagram Prize Shortlist

* A Taxonomy of Office Chairs by Jonathan Olivares

* Cooking with Poo by Saiyuud Diwong

* A Century of Sand Dredging in the Bristol Channel: Volume 2: The Welsh Coast by Peter Gosson

* Mr Andoh's Pennine Diary: Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer in 1935 Hebden Bridge by Stephen Curry and Takayoshi Andoh

* Estonian Sock Patterns All Around the World by Aino Praakli

* The Great Singapore Penis Panic: And the Future of American Mass Hysteria by Scott D Mendelson

* The Mushroom in Christian Art by John A Rush

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