Let it flow: A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path wins 42nd Diagram Prize

Let it flow: A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path wins 42nd Diagram Prize

In a history-making triumph for its Canadian author and publisher, A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path: Animal Metaphors in Eastern Indonesian Society has won the 42nd annual The Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.

The result means a first-ever win of the august literary prize by a Canadian author—the University of Alberta anthropologist Gregory Forth—while McGill-Queen’s University Press now becomes the only Canadian publisher to grab the crown.      

A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path showed a remarkably clean pair of paws to the rest of the field, notching up 49% of the public vote—26 percentage points clear of second-place finisher, Introducing the Medieval Ass.   

Horace Bent, The Bookseller legendary diarist and The Diagram Prize administrator, said: “There has been little to shout about in a difficult year, but A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path is something to cherish, as long as you stay a good metre or two away and, perhaps, wear some stout wellies. Congratulations to Gregory Forth and McGill-Queen’s University Press: I am sure the champagne—or I guess something else—will certainly be flowing as they celebrate A Dog Pissing’s hard-earned victory."   

Bent added: "Canada has had some standout moments in 2020: the global success of ‘Schitt’s Creek’, Ryan Reynolds’ wise investment to become the proud owner of National League side Wrexham AFC, Justin Trudeau’s dishy salt-and-pepper lockdown beard. But surely A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path is the highlight of a pandemic year. Indeed, I would hazard to say that this is the most significant event in Canadian history since Wolfe defeated Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham in the Seven Years’ War.”

Tom Tivnan, The Bookseller managing editor and The Diagram Prize co-ordinator, echoed Bent in congratulating A Dog Pissing at the Edge of a Path while saluting the rest of the shortlist. He said: "I’m actually very surprised that no Canadian author or publisher has won before as a country which counts the beaver as its national emblem and has embraced Nickelback as one of its major recording artists surely has a keen sense of the ridiculous.”

Dr Forth’s book is one of the first comprehensive studies of animal metaphors in a non-Western society, focusing on how the Nage—indigenous peoples who primarily live on the islands of Flores and Timor—understand metaphor and use their knowledge of animals to shape specific expressions. The title is an idiom which refers to someone who begins a task but is regularly distracted by other matters, like a dog which has the habit of frequently stopping to urinate while on a walk. The English phrase “to piss about” has a similar origin.

Forth said: "I'm naturally (zoologically?) pleased by this award, and many thanks to The Bookseller. They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but I hope prospective readers might be attracted to this one by its title. It is a serious book, but the animal metaphors it explores are often humorous as well—even in English.”

MQUP said in a statement: "We are thrilled to learn of Dr. Forth’s win. There are many more 'odd' and funny sayings in the book—child of wild piglet; dog mounting a buffalo—that could have made the list and are no less interesting once you get into the details of what they mean. We hope the attention this award brings to the more superficial elements of the book prompts readers to spend time with the contents.”

There is no monetary award for the victor, but a “passable bottle of claret” is traditionally given to the person who nominates the winning entry. Graeme Innes-Johnstone, Eurospan's regional sales manager UK, Ireland and EMEA, nominated A Dog Pissing at the Edge of the Path. Innes-Johnstone also put forward the third-place title, Classical Antiquity in Heavy Metal Music.  

The Diagram Prize was originally conceived in 1978 by Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson, co-founders of publishing solutions firm The Diagram Group, as a way to avoid boredom at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. Hoarce Bent and The Bookseller have been administering the prize since 1982. The first winner was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, while last year the gong went to The Dirt Hole and its Variations.  

 

The remaining 2020 shortlist results in full:

23%
Introducing the Medieval Ass

As it notched second place finish, one couldn’t say Kathryn L Smithies’ Introducing the Medieval Ass (University of Wales Press) was bringing up the rear, but it was perhaps a disappointing finish for an early bookies’ favourite.

13%
Classical Antiquity in Heavy Metal Music

KFB Fletcher and Osman Umurha’s Classical Antiquity in Heavy Metal Music (Bloomsbury Academic) didn’t stop at cranking it up to 11—it went all the way to 13 (per cent) to claim a third-place podium finish.

12%
Lawnmowers: An Illustrated History

A respectable mid-table return for Lawnmowers: An Illustrated History (Amberley) by Brian Radam, owner of Southport’s British Lawnmower Museum, undoubtedly most Britons' first post-lockdown day trip destination.

2%
The Slaughter of Farmed Animals: Practical Ways of Enhancing Animal Welfare

With the rise of vegetarianism and veganism, Temple Grandin and Michael Cockram’s The Slaughter of Farmed Animals: Practical Ways of Enhancing Animal Welfare (CABI) undoubtedly ran counter to prevailing trends. Hard cheese. Or tofu.

1%
How to Make Love to a Despot

As it perhaps brought up images of a priapic and de-robed Kim Jong-Un, Stephen D Krasner’s How to Make Love to a Despot (Liveright) was not a hit with Diagram voters.