The Diagram Prize

If you’re a mystery/suspense reader, you have undoubtedly heard of the various awards for achievement in that field: the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, and many others. Romance writers of note might win the RITA award, or perhaps a Christy award for Romance Fiction. Sci-fi writers may be eligible for a Philip K. Dick award, a Hugo, or a Nebula. And of course there are the really prestigious ones: the Pulitzer, the Man Booker, and even the Nobel Prize for Literature. But I have to say, my personal favorite, the one I wait for with giddy antici………pation every year, is the coveted Diagram Prize for the Oddest Title of the Year.

Originated by The Bookseller magazine, and brainchild of The Diagram Group, a London-based information and graphics firm, the Diagram Prize has been entertaining bibliophiles for more than thirty years, since its inception at the 1978 Frankfurt Book Fair. That year, the winner was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, a scholarly tome published by the University of Tokyo Press. 1984 brought us The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today, undoubtedly as gripping as its title suggests. 1985’s winner was perhaps the longest title to date, and undoubtedly the most titillating: Natural Bust Enlargement With Total Power: How to Increase the Other 90% of Your Mind to Increase the Size of Your Breasts. The theme seemed to repeat itself in 1993, with American Bottom Archaeology, but alas, that was another scholarly treatise, this time on the cultural history of the Mississippi River Valley. A particular favorite of mine was 1996’s Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers; I can scarcely wait for the movie.

The 2000s brought some racy themes to the forefront, ‘02’s Living With Crazy Buttocks

and the following year’s The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories. Another invaluable reference book for the Renaissance Man (or Woman) is 2006’s The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America, A Guide to Field Identification. If that is a bit too pedestrian for you, perhaps you would find intrigue in the 2008 entry, The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais. And for 2009, the winner is (drum roll, please…): Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes, which, to judge by the cover, looks pretty darn fascinating.

Among the runners up were: Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich, Afterthoughts of a Worm Hunter, and the The Changing World of Inflammatory Bowel Disease, all certain to be found on bedside tables across America and beyond.

CODA: my research for this article led me to another arcane literary competition, The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants are invited to compose “the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels”. Named after English novelist Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who penned the infamous “It was a dark and stormy night…” to which all bad opening lines are inevitably compared, the Bulwer-Lytton has spawned (there really is no other word for it) some worthy pretenders to the throne. Consider this one, from 1986 winner Patricia E. Presutti: “The bone-chilling scream split the warm summer night in two, the first half being before the scream when it was fairly balmy and calm and pleasant for those who hadn’t heard the scream at all, but not calm or balmy or even very nice for those who did hear the scream, discounting the little period of time during the actual scream itself when your ears might have been hearing it but your brain wasn’t reacting yet to let you know.”

Or how about this one, from the following year, penned by the uncompromising Sheila B. Richter: “The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically pedaling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by Nature’s maxim, ‘Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work,’ and at last I knew Pittsburgh.”

For more examples, check out their website at http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ , “where www means Wretched Writers Welcome.”

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