An odd question

Not a year goes by without one person asking me: “Horace, you wonderful, wonderful man, I think I may already know the answer to my question as your columns suggest you are a man of incredible talents and never make blunders, but I must ask, if only to solidify my opinion of you as one of the greatest columnists ever to grace the printed page, do you think you have ever made an error in crowing any of the previous winners of your delightful Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year?”

The answer is, of course, always “No.” Or at least “No, I haven’t, but I wouldn’t have chosen 2007’s winner”. That year was, of course, the year that the sordid minds of the perverse masses chose to elect If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs as the oddest title of the year. Personally, I think “moderately humorous on first impression” would have been a more suitable prize for it to win. How it beat Cheese Problems Solved that year I’ll never know. An outrage.

As I’ve maintained to this day, democracy doesn’t always work. I’m not too sure handing over the task of crowning the champion to the debased masses was the best idea in the history of the prize. But then again, given we’re now in its 31st year perhaps one bad egg is acceptable. If back in 1978 a the birth of this prestigious award someone was to tell me that in 31 years time, the prize will still be going stronger than ever, I would have (unintentionally) spat champers in their face, whoever they were.

But, back to the original question, no I have never regretted any decision, but that’s not to say that deciding on the winners over the years was ever an easy task. Far from it, many of the debates went long into the night and when the shafts of sunlight awoke me from my slumber, my first thoughts would always return to the previous evening’s proceedings and the shouting, laughter, tantrums and toastings.

For the record, the winners over the years:

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (also winner of the 15th anniversary “Diagram of Diagrams Award); The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution; The Joy of Chickens; Last Chance at Love: Terminal Romances, Population and Other Problem and Braces Owners Manual (joint winners); The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling; The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History and Its Role in the World Today; Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Power: How to Increase the Other 90% of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts; Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality; Versailles: The View From Sweden; How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art; Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual; How to Avoid Huge Ships; American Bottom Archaeology; Highlights in the History of Concrete; Reusing Old Graves; Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (also winner of the 30th anniversary “Diagram of Diagram Award”); The Joy of Sex: Pocket Edition; Development in Dairy Cow Breeding and Management: and New Opportunities to Widen the Uses of Straw; Weeds in a Changing World; High Performance Stiffened Structures; Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service; Living With Crazy Buttocks; The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories; Bombproof Your Horse; People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It; The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification; If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs

Worthy winners all of them I think you’ll agree.

For the geeks among you, twice  (19878 and 1991) I’ve had to make the tough decision not to award a winner as publishing standards slipped—apparently they were only concerned with publishing sensible books with sensible titles. Pathetic – may it never occur again.

Twice we’ve had a lesbian winner (The Lesbian Sadomasochism Manual, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories).

Twice we’ve had cannibalistic nominations (Neurosis Induced Cannibalism in Antarctic Pigs in 1984 and Cannibalism and the Common Law just two years later).

Three times we’ve had child-based nominations and they all came in the same year – 1981 (Child-spacing in Tropical Africa, Children Are Like Wet Cement, and one of my all-time favourites Waterproofing Your Child)

Death has been a regular theme (How to Conduct a One-Day Conference on Death Education, Cat’s Revenge: More Than 101 Uses for Dead People, Sex After Death, The Care and Feeding of Stuffed Animals, Deathing: An Intelligent Alternative for the Final Moments of Life, People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It, Attractive and Affectionate Grave Design, Reusing Old Graves).

As has sex (too many to name but The Rape-Sponge Cucumber and Male Genital Organs and Their Improvement) gives you a taste.

Publisher wise, I urge you to check here for a list of superb titles – all of which are worthy winners. Woodhead meanwhile, are developing an impressive track record in recent years and look incredibly capable of appearing in future shortlists.

However, if there was one title that I think deserves a special mention – a kind of “Oddest never to have been Odd” then it would have to be Wife-battering: A Systems Theory Approach, short-listed for the 1983 award. Or perhaps 1982’s What do Socks do?. Or at a pinch 1993’s Japanese Chins. Or possibly 1996’s Egg Banjos from Around the World.


It’s not easy you know.