I’m sure you are all familiar with “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”, in which the red, white and blue-clad superdude Steve Rogers is harried by a mysterious assassin. We later learn (spoiler alert) that the killer is Cap’s old comrade-in-arms Bucky Barnes, who since the end of the Second World War has been brainwashed by the dreaded Russkies and literally put on ice, to be occasionally thawed out in order to conduct some nefarious black-ops mission (one of which, and I may be getting film and TV universes mixed up, seems to be taking out Roger Sterling from “Mad Men” for some reason).
Think of your old pal Horace, therefore, as The Bookseller’s Winter Soldier. Not the murdering people part (not as yet...), but that my great longevity is due to being placed in a state of suspended animation—none of that cryogenics hoo-ha, I am frozen in a vat of Plymouth Navy Gin; I hear it is the same process which will enable 84-year-old Wilbur Smith to see out his new eight-book deal with Bonnier Zaffre—and reanimated a few times throughout the year for important missions. Such as writing some lighthearted “bantz” (as I believe the children say) at a book fair or three and, most importantly, to oversee The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.
The call goes out
Incredibly, this is the 39th outing for the literary world’s most prestigious prize. Why, it seems like just yesterday that co-founders Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson were giving out the first award at the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. If you were there—either at the first Diagram Prize ceremony or that Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (by all accounts as lairy as a Blackpool hen do)—you saw some history.
Which brings us to this year. As always, I need the help of you, my Horace Army, to come up with the shortlist. If you have seen a strange title do email (email@example.com), tweet (@HoraceBent) or send a telegram (my preferred method) to alert me. It could be worth your while: as always, the nominator of the winning title will be given a passable bottle of claret (the author and publisher receive nothing tangible, barring worldwide recognition and the adulation of millions).
For consideration, all books must have been published for the first time anywhere in the world in the English language from 1st January 2016 to 31st December 2016. Please note the date range—and for all that is holy, do not tweet me about, say, a book first brought out in 1875—if so, I will burn you harder than J K Flippin’ Rowling. I jest. I use Twitter much like the 45th president of the United States: for calm, reasoned and sensible debate.
A matter of intent
As always, a word of caution—and here we delve into the very soul of the Diagram Prize—we are looking for the oddest title of the year, not necessarily the funniest, particularly not one that is intentionally funny. Please whiz any suggestions over by 30th June. The shortlist will be announced on 7th July and the winner— judged by the great British public—will be revealed on 28th July.
Looking at the entries of the past 40 years reveals interesting patterns. Animals and animal husbandry are a strongly consistent theme, coming tops nine times, most recently with 2012’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop. An academic tome with an inadvertently fruity title has taken home the prize on seven occassions, including 1993’s American Bottom Archaeology (“American Bottom” is the term for the Mississippi flood plain) and 2000’s mechanical engineering textbook Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures. In recent years you, the voting public, have favoured the scatological with overwhelming support for Cooking with Poo (2011) and How to Poo on a Date (2013). Oh, the humanity.