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The Diagram Prize for the oddest title of the year

March 3, 2010

I know you’ve been waiting for it: the longlist for the Bookseller/Diagram Prize is out – and in fact was out in early February. You can find it in the Guardian article here. As no doubt some of you know, this prize began in 1978 as a way, says the Wikipedia article to which I’ve linked, of providing entertainment during the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair.

What a hoot! Not surprisingly, many of the winners have been non-fiction titles. Last year’s winner for example was The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais. There was a readership for that? One of those longlisted for this year is the rather clever The origin of faeces. I wouldn’t want to give you all a bum steer (sorry folks!), but my vote’s with this one!

Right now I can’t think of any particularly odd titles that I’ve come across in recent times – but here are a few title awards that I’d like to give:

Hardest to get right

Winner: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
How many people have you heard get that one wrong? People seem to have trouble getting all of “Potato Peel Pie” in when they tell you about it.

Runner up: Extremely loud and incredibly close
I have a friend who referred to it in an email like this: “Foer’s Amazingly and Suddenly (I’m sorry I can’t keep that title straight)”. She made my day, and every time I think of Foer, I think of her and smile!

Runner up (yes, I have a tie): True history of the Kelly Gang
People will start it with “The”!

Most appealing

Winner: An artist of the floating world
I know, this is a title in translation, but every time I hear it my spirit lifts and just, well, floats…

Runner up: It’s raining in Mango
Because we (here) need rain and I love mangoes. I rest my case.

Haruki Murakami, Hardboiled wonderland and the end of the world

Cover image, used by permission of The Random House Group Ltd.

Funniest

Winner: The man who mistook his wife for a hat
A rare non-fiction entry in my list – and a very serious topic – but a worthy winner nonetheless.

Runner up: Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world
Not laugh out loud funny so much as bizarre. It also vies for “hardest to get right” honours too.

I could go on, making up more categories as I go but that would be too silly.

Titles are important –  though I wonder how significant they are to the success of a book, particularly for a lesser known author? Some years ago there was an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “What it takes to title a book”. In it Julian Barnes says:

“If I had a euro for every book title that copies the formula of Flaubert’s Parrot, I’d be a rich man,” he says, citing the examples of Pushkin’s Button and the recently published Audubon’s Elephant.

The article is fascinating, ranging over such issues as titles and commercial success, author versus publisher’s role in titling, working titles, duplicate titles, words like “midnight” that have their own “magic title buzz” – and so on.  According to the article – and many of you Fitzgerald fans will know this – F. Scott’s title for The great Gatsby was Under the red white and blue because it was about the American dream. His publisher had other ideas, and the rest as they say…  Similarly, Jane Austen afficionados are well aware that her first title for Pride and prejudice was First impressions.

What’s in a name? Plenty, it seems… Do you have any favourite titles? Or favourite title stories?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. March 3, 2010 19:39

    Murakami has a habit of choosing weird titles then – The Wind-Up-Bird Chronicles was one I think?

    • March 3, 2010 22:33

      Yes, he does. Wind-up bird chronicle is one. Even his more “normal” ones sound a bit odd such as A wild sheep chase and A sputnik sweetheart!

  2. March 3, 2010 20:39

    Love this post! Also, fromage frais is awesome. And similar to quark, which I have apparently been eating lately on account of mistaking it for yoghurt. Silly lack of German language skills.

    Also, reading this I was thinking of “Hardboiled Wonderland and the End of the World”, and then you went and included that yourself. So I’m coming up blank for titles to add…

    • March 3, 2010 22:36

      Lack of language skills certainly can result in some interesting food experiences.

      And, re titles, you could have made one up and I wouldn’t have noticed! I was thinking too of talking about those series – like Janet Evanovich with her Numbers, and Sue Grafton with her Alphabet.

  3. March 4, 2010 02:06

    The origin of faeces, I love it! I am glad I am not the only one who gets the Guernsey title and the Foer title wrong. All I usually think of it as Guernsey Potato Peels because I can’t remember the whole thing. And Foer, it’s usually Incredibly Loud and then I can’t think of what comes next. For some reason I have no trouble with the Murakami. Maybe because I’ve read it. Titles are funny things.

    • March 4, 2010 07:25

      They are, aren’t they Stefanie. I think there needs to be rhythm in the language of a title just like in the language of the content AND the Guernsey title just doesn’t have a rhythm that flows. The Foer does, I think, but it’s a jumble of like sounding words (or something!) that gets in the way. I think we could talk about titles for a long time … there’s the whole issue too of titles being changed for different countries. One of my favourites is:

      Miss Smilla’s feeling for snow (here, downunder, and in England I think)
      Smilla’s sense of snow (the USA)

      Now, what’s THAT all about?

  4. March 15, 2010 01:05

    Food Digestion and Thermal Preference of Toad get my vote!

    • March 15, 2010 07:33

      Lol, Tom … the things people study, write and read eh? BTW What’s your “thermal preference”?!

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