Diagram oddities light up the global lockdown

Diagram oddities light up the global lockdown

We need something to lift our spirits in these uncertain times” is a phrase of the last few months which I imagine we have all become rather weary of, as it often precedes your Aunt Linda sharing a desperately unfunny and mildly xenophobic Boomer meme her pal Karen posted on Facebook. But given the metaphorical dumpster fire of world events (and, in many US cities at the moment, literal fires), maybe Auntie L is onto something about the need to keep the lols coming.

To wit: let us take a gambol through some of the nominations that are coming in for the 2020 edition of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. We are some months away from the book world’s most important literary gong, but Diagramologists and keen bonkers-title-spotters have been sending telegrams and dispatches from the remote corners of the book trade all year. 

Heading up books and publications at Totnes-based ecology and conservation specialists NHBS, Nigel Jones sees a lot of animal husbandry and wildlife titles crossing his desk—subject areas that are teeming talent pools for Diagrams past, such as winners Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012) and last year’s glorious hunting tome, The Dirt Hole and its Variations. One May 2020 title particularly caught Jones’ eye: The Slaughter of Farmed Animals: Practical Ways to Enhance Animal Welfare (CABI). I’m no wild-eyed, frothing at the mouth vegan, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that animal welfare may be improved by, er, not killing them in the first place. 

Jones also suggested we take a look at another title from CABI—the Oxford non-profit known to its friends as the Centre for Agriculture & Bioscience International—but perhaps this is due to Jones being from the south-west, where I’m told they’re apt to put scrumpy on their Weetabix. The title in question is The Professional Handbook of Cider Tasting, which I dearly hope has been authored by a couple 14-year-olds while necking a two-litre bottle of White Lightning at a Weston-super-Mare bus shelter.

Eurospan UK, Europe and Africa sales boss Graeme Innes-Johnstone is a seasoned nominator, and he has spotted a title of Diagram Venn Diagram perfection featuring animals (as above), the scatalogical (past winners such as 2011’s Cooking with Poo) and university presses (a tradition going back to the very first Diagram champ, the University of Tokyo Press’ Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice). A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path: Animal Metaphors in an Eastern Indonesian Society (McGill-Queen’s University Press) is said to be the first comprehensive study of animal metaphors in a non-Western society... so you may want to get your copies the moment bookshops reopen.

Closer to home, the team working on The Bookseller’s previews and Buyer’s Guides have flagged up a few doozies. Creative editor Danny Arter was drawn to Brian Rampy’s Lawnmowers: An Illustrated History (Amberley), more than a little nod to 2006’s classic The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification. And our recent Wales preview by non-fiction guru Caroline Sanderson gave us Kathryn L Smithies’ Introducing the Medieval Ass (University of Wales Press)—not about Jacob Rees-Mogg, as I thought, but the pack animals. 

Keep the entries rolling in (email bent@thebookseller.com), Diagramistas, as the shortlist will be revealed in October. Remember, the nominator of the winning title is presented with the traditional passable bottle of claret—something you really do need in these uncertain times.