When success is not enough

It has been a significant birthday year from some of the lesser literary prizes. That American award—what’s it called? Oh yes, the Man Booker—celebrated its half century. We too have been blowing out candles, as 40 years have passed since The Bookseller’s Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was dreamt up at the Frankfurter Buchmesse by the genius of Trevor Bounford and the late Bruce Robinson.

And we have a cracking shortlist for our ruby anniversary. First comes an entry from the groves of academe, which is hardly unusual: one in three Diagram champions to date was written by a professorial egghead, tone-deaf to how the titles of specialist subjects scan to the outside world. (My all-time favourite? The Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures, 2000.) I’m sure Hoe-Chi Angel Au’s Are Gay Men More Accurate in Detecting Deceits? is of deep importance to the field of queer studies but it sounds more like something a junior producer might pitch—and then be roundly derided—as a possible segment on Ru Paul’s podcast "What’s the Tee? With Michelle Visage".

Popular in the public vote recently (I look upon you and despair, readers) is... how to euphemise... matters lavatorial. Think of How to Poo on a Date (2013) and Cooking with Poo (2011), and you get the idea. We have an elevated version in our, ahem, number two entry this time, with Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung by esteemed entomologist Richard Jones. The reigning Diagram champ is The Commuter Pig Keeper and this year also has an animal husbandry contender, Equine Dry Needling, which sounds less like the large-animal veterinary tome it is and more like your horse is on the receiving end of some waspish bon mots from Oscar Wilde.

Then we turn our eyes upwards to David Muskett’s Jesus on Gardening. The Messiah apparently had some choice things to say on horticulture—suggesting that if the Second Coming ever happens, he would be a cracking guest on "Gardeners’ Question Time". Meanwhile, Why Sell Tacos in Africa? is a sizeable business book that really only needed one sentence: "Because they’re delicious."

Joy of Waterboiling roiled the Diagram committee (me) as its eligibility was in question because the cookery tome’s text is mostly in German. But a check of the rule-book (Sancta Praecepta Diagram Ridiculam Libri Titulus Anni, on permanent display in the British Library next to the Magna Carta) reveals that only the title needs to be in English. Waterboiling is on the menu.

Now over to you, Diagramistas. You can vote for your favourite here; the winner will be revealed on 23rd November.

Strangely, and this has only happened once before in Diagram history, all entries have been discovered by in-house staff. Traditionally, a bottle of passable claret is given to whoever nominates the winning entry. As we are unable to do that this year—giving free booze to The Bookseller staff is most inadvisable—the claret will be awarded at random to someone who casts their ballot for the eventual winner. Happy voting!

The list in full

Are Gay Men More Accurate in Detecting Deceits?
Hoe-Chi Angel Au
Open Dissertation Press

This title raises so many questions. More accurate than whom? Anyone else on the LGBTQI+ spectrum?  Or what... a polygraph machine?

Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung
Richard Jones
Pelagic Publishing

Entomologist Jones promises the reader an "exciting journey through the digestive systems of humans, farm and wild animals... as they eat, breed in and compete for dung". Yum!

Equine Dry Needling
Cornelia Klarholz and Andrea Schachinger

This book is essentially acupuncture for horses. Surely, your trusty steed would prefer to be pampered with an Ayurvedic massage followed by a sea-salt body scrub and a mud-pack facial.

Jesus on Gardening
David Muskett
Onwards and Upwards

A title which brings a new wrinkle to "What would Jesus do?" Can’t choose between Portuguese laurel and Red Robin photinias? Don’t worry, the Son of Man has all the answers.

Joy of Waterboiling
Asche Verlag

Not the next mindfulness publishing trend, but recipes for a German device that—and this’ll blow your mind—takes water... and boils it. Cutting-edge stuff.

Why Sell Tacos in Africa?
Paul Oberschneider
Blue Ocean Marketing

The back cover blurb says that there are "no magic beans that carry you upward overnight", which shows that the author hasn’t eaten Wahaca’s black-bean tacos.

Horace will be touring the UK to promote the 2018 Diagram shortlist in a series of high-profile media appearances. Those able to afford his rider can inquire to bent@thebookseller.com.