Life begins—again—at 41 for the Diagram Prize as six vie for title

The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year committee (me and my cats Edith and Osbert Bent) enters its 41st year crisis-ridden, like some other prominent though far less distinguished awards: The Nobel Prize for War-Criminal Lovers, the Florence Booker Prize.

We thought last year’s decision to shortlist a foreign-language book for the first time—The Joy of Waterboiling from, mein Gott im Himmel, a German publisher—would prove ein bisschen controversial. (Btw, you’re not somehow able to read German; the title was in English, the bulk of the text in German.) But we did not think it would win the popular vote. I’d have bet the house on Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung. In fact, I did. That’s why I no longer reside in my Cotswolds pile but a mobile home parked illegally on the hard shoulder of the M20, just outside Folkestone. We certainly were not prepared for the onslaught from Diagram purists who clutched their pearls at our German winner. That’s how Twitter works, nowadays: “#Diagram and @HoraceBent, or is it #DerDiagram and @HeinrichBent? 17.4 million people voted against things like this. #cancelled.”

So we have recalibrated and looked deep within to go back to the roots. I will be honest, this was not my first instinct. Like Logan Roy, I thought we just needed a “blood sacrifice”: someone to throw under the bus, feed to the wolves... insert your own metaphor. My Kendall Roy was Edith and Osbert, but the PR bods said letting them take the blame wasn’t “good optics”. Who knew the internet is partial to cats?

Therefore, we’ve gone back to Diagram basics, which will be tasteful and controversy-free like, say, the 1990 winner Lesbian Sadomasochism Safety Manual, or the 2011 champ Cooking with Poo. So, we proudly announce the 2019 shortlist, beginning with the self-published The Dirt Hole and its Variations by Charles L Dobbins, suggested by Dennis Drayna of Maryland, US of A. Mind out of the gutter, folks: the dirt hole is a hunting and trapping technique. But if you want to go back to the gutter, look up the book on Amazon and take a gander at the chapter headings, which include “Dirt Hole with Urine”, “Mound with a Hole”, and “Different Angled Holes”. Xanna Eve Chown nominated Noah Gets Naked: Bible Stories They Didn’t Teach You at Sunday School, authored by, er, Xanna Eve Chown. I wonder if the two know each other? Next is Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich, sent in by Graeme Innes-Johnstone.

The final three shortlistees were all spotted in-house by the folks who put together The Bookseller Buyer’s Guides: Anne Pedersen and Søren M Sindbæk’s Viking Encounters: Proceedings of the 18th Viking Congress, Fiona Beckett’s How to Drink Without Drinking and Catherine W Donnelly’s Ending the War on Artisan Cheese.

Now, over to you. To make your choice for a Diagram favourite, vote in our poll. Voting closes on 22nd November. As always, the person who nominates the winning title will be given the traditional passable bottle of claret. If one of the in-house nominees prevails, the claret will be given randomly to one of you, the voters.