The Diagram Prize '09: The Shortlist

<h2><img src="" style="width: 150px; height: 120px;" alt="" /></h2>
<h2><b>Autonomous Robots take on the Third Reich</b></h2>
<p><b>THE BOOKSELLER TOWERS, London</b>. &mdash; 2009. A year when <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/87017-hudson-recession-threat-to-publi... were slashed</a>, <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/107245-literary-dbut-advances-fall-as-... were cut</a>, <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/blogs//107137-our-top-stories-of-2009.html"... were given the boot</a>, book sales suffered a slight malaise (see: <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/111020-stars-titles-slump-in-2009.html... memoirs</a>), and yet, and yet . . . oddity endured.</p>
<p>I received a <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com/news/111542-record-number-of-submissions-fo... number of submissions</a> for the 2009 <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bookseller/Diagram_Prize_for_Oddest_Title_o... Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year</b></a>, almost treble the number I received for 2008. And I have Twitter largely to thank, for 50 submissions were <a href="http://twitter.com/horaceBent">Tweeted in my general direction</a>. Sadly, however, almost half the submissions were ineligible as they were published well before 2009. They raised a smile nonetheless&mdash;<i>Sketches of a Few Jellyfish</i>, <i>On Sledge and Horseback to Outcast Siberian Lepers</i>, and <i>Seeing and Sensing Gnomes: Hey Looky Heah&rsquo;h</i>, to name but three.</p>
<p>However, even after the initial cull, the list was still considerable in size, meaning my panel of esteemed literary minds and I were forced into ruthlessness, brutally cutting any submission we felt carried a &ldquo;deliberately odd&rdquo; title. As such, submissions including <i>Bacon: A Love Story</i>, <i>The Origin of Faeces</i> and <i>Pride and Prejudice and Zombies</i>, fell at this second hurdle. But even after this second cull, choosing a shortlist still proved formidable, with equal measures of both controversial and emotional.</p>
<p>However, <i>finally</i>, and without further ado, I give you the final six:</p>
<p><i><b>The Changing </b></i><a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781556428418/The-Changing-World-of... align="left" src="" style="width: 111px; height: 156px;" alt="" /></a><i><b>World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease</b></i> <br />
<i>by Ellen Scherl and Marla Dubinsky (Slack Inc)</i></p>
<p>For the second year in succession, healthcare cognoscenti Slack Incorporated enjoy a spot on the shortlist. 2008&rsquo;s bottom-clenchingly absorbing <i>Curbside Consultation of the Colon</i> proved a real cracker with voters, finishing a respectable third in last year's Diagram Prize, but Slack will no doubt be hoping to go two better this year. Sales Stateside have bottomed out at around the one-every-couple-of-weeks mark, but sales aren&rsquo;t on the skids over here&mdash;principally because it has yet to sell a single copy on UK shores, no doubt because our enviable diet (curry, etc) bequeaths us with immaculate intestines.</p>
<p>Inflammatory bowel disease has form in this award.<i> Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A Personal View</i> narrowly missed out to <i>Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality</i> in the '86 installment.</p>
<p><i>Spotted by: The Bookseller&rsquo;s non-fiction previewer, Caroline Sanderson</i><br />
<br />
<i><b>Collectible Spoons of the 3rd Reich</b></i><a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781425186951/Collectible-Spoons-of... align="right" src="" style="width: 110px; height: 172px;" alt="" /></a><br />
<i>by James A Yannes (Trafford)</i></p>
<p>&ldquo;Of interest to the collector and educational for the casual reader of history,&rdquo; the title of US Army veteran Yannes&rsquo; indispensable cutlery compendium received high praise from the panel. The epic &ldquo;explores the relevant historical highlights which in turn illuminate this unique period in history as reflected by the spoons&rdquo; and runs to 19,000 words. Yours for just &pound;13(ish), no longer will you ever have to ponder: &ldquo;What did the dessert spoons used on the Kriegsmarine&rsquo;s U-47 look like?&rdquo;</p>
<p>Much like inflammatory bowels, both spoons and the Nazis have Diagram form. <i>Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan</i> missed out to <i>The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America</i> in '06, while both<i> How Green Were the Nazis? </i>and <i>Detecting Fake Nazi Regalia </i>made previous Diagram shortlists.</p>
<p><i>Spotted by Nielsen BookScan&rsquo;s Andre Breedt </i><br />
<br />
<b><i><a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781568814520/Crocheting-Adventures... width="110" height="91" align="left" alt="" src="" /></a>Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes</i></b><br />
<i>by Daina Taimina(A K Peters)</i></p>
<p>More &ldquo;Riemannian manifold with negative Gaussian curvature&rdquo; than &ldquo;crochet charts&rdquo;, <i>Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes </i>is the bestselling book on this odd-title shortlist, having notched up a colossal 34 sales in the UK and a tremendous 588 copies in the US. The gripping yarn will keep you hooked to the final chapter: &ldquo;Who is Interested in Hyperbolic Geometry Now and How Can it be Used?&rdquo;</p>
<p><i>Spotted by: Booth Book Publishing&rsquo;s Stuart Booth</i><br />
<br />
<i><b>Governing Lethal Behavior in Autonomous Robots</b></i><a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9781420085945/Governing-Lethal-Beha... width="110" height="168" align="right" alt="" src="" /></a><br />
<i>by Ronald C Arkin (CRC Press)</i></p>
<p>The essential guide to any owner of a T-1000, Georgia Tech roboticist/roboethicist Arkin&rsquo;s 2009 work has sold into double figures in the UK, and clocked up an electrifying 94 copies in the US. Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield deemed it a &ldquo;must read&rdquo;. Quite. After all, where else can one find an exploration of a new breed of robots, illustrating that &ldquo;the first steps toward creating robots that not only conform to international law but outperform human soldiers in their ethical capacity are within reach in the future&rdquo;.</p>
<p>So, these &ldquo;humane-oids&rdquo; &#8232;will no doubt refuse to participate in any &ldquo;regime changes&rdquo; &#8232;that could, perhaps, be seen to be breaking UN &#8232;resolutions, then?</p>
<p><i>Spotted by: Foyles&rsquo; web editor Jonathan Ruppin</i><br />
<br />
<i><b>What Kind of Bean is this Chihuahua?</b></i><a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/book/9780982256091/What-Kind-of-Bean-Is-... width="110" height="110" align="left" alt="" src="" /></a><br />
<i>by Tara Jansen-Meyer (Mirror)</i></p>
<p>Seemingly a children&rsquo;s book on race (&ldquo;where kids learn it&rsquo;s OK to be different&rdquo;), the title suggests pre-school children will instead learn what kind of bean (runner, mung?) a chihuahua is. Last time I checked, it was a dog, but I defer to Jansen-Meyer&rsquo;s expertise. Sales in the UK have thus far been disappointing, but a jacket revamp should do the trick&mdash;putting &quot;Meyer&quot; in huge, white letters on a black background might be an idea. Rumours of a follow-up, <i>&#8232;What Kind of Asparagus is this Shetland Pony?</i>, are disappointingly still just rumours.</p>
<p><i>Spotted by The Bookseller subscriber Jay Omotoso</i><br />
<br />
<i><b>Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter</b></i><a href="http://www.gla.ac.uk/centres/glasgowcentreforinternationaldevelopment/pu... width="110" height="167" align="right" alt="" src="" /></a><br />
<i>by David Crompton (Glenstrae Press)</i></p>
<p>All proceeds from the sales of helminthologist (look it up) Crompton&rsquo;s notes on his worm-hunting travels go to the Glasgow Centre for International Development&rsquo;s scholarship fund. Sadly, however, sales in the UK and US (according to Nielsen BookScan) total precisely no copies whatsoever. One assumes, of course, that BookScan simply does not cover the traditional sales outlets for worm-hunting tomes.</p>
<p>Two other wormy tomes have made previous Diagram shortlists. <i>New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers</i> made the '81 shortlist, while<i> Earthworms of Ontario</i> missed out to <i>Reusing Old Graves</i> in '95. Crompton's <i>Worms</i> could wriggle a win. Said Sir Kenneth Calman, Chancellor of the University of Glasgow (where Crompton is an honorary professor): &ldquo;I am always attracted to a book with an interesting title, and what could be more intriguing than Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter?&rdquo; It is a question that I leave to you, dear reader...</p>
<p><i>Spotted by @writershelper on Twitter</i></p>
<p>(If you click on the book jackets above, you can spend your hard-earned pennies pretty easily &mdash; and many thanks to <a href="http://www.bookdepository.co.uk"><b>www.bookdepository.co.uk</b></a> for that.)</p>
<p>Vote for your favourite at <a href="http://www.thebookseller.com"><b>www.thebookseller.com</b></a>. The winner will be announced on Friday, 26th March.</p>
<p><b>Horace</b> (<a href="mailto:bent@bookseller.co.uk?subject=Horace%2C%20you%20adorable%20man......@bookseller.co.uk</b></a> or <a href="http://twitter.com/HoraceBent"><b>HoraceBent</b></a> on Twitter).</p>
<p>***For high-res imaes of all six jackets, please <a href="/sites/default/files/userfiles/HighResJackets.zip"><b>click here</b></a>***</p>