Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Diagram Awards

You've probably heard of the Darwin Awards, awarded posthumously to those idiots who have successfully and often spectacularly removed themselves from the gene pool simply by exercising their own poor judgment. Funny as these can be, there's something more than a little adolescent about revelling in tragic mishaps, however, and after a while it simply becomes depressing.

Other awards are available, of course -- the Ig Nobel prizes "for improbable research" are a Silly Season fixture beloved by hard-pressed media editors everywhere, and the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award always attracts a lot of attention, for obvious reasons. But for something a little quieter and more sophisticated, you might want to know about the less well-known Diagram Award from The Bookseller magazine, awarded to the book published in the previous year with the strangest title.

The contemporary taste for ironic or deadpan humorous titles in recent times has somewhat taken the wind out of the Diagram Award's sails. For an odd title to be truly noteworthy it has to be unintentionally funny, obviously. On the face of it, for example, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification is a real contender, but is actually an artist's book, disappointingly short on the kind of taxonomical identification marks that might have founded a new hobby of "trolley spotting". The attention-grabbing title of A Short History of Tractors In Ukrainian served merely to bring the attention of likely readers to what is actually a good comic novel. The spoilsport authors of such titles have shot the Diagram's fox, so to speak.

Previous winners of the prize have included Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, How to Avoid Huge Ships, and Crocheting Adventures With Hyperbolic Planes. But few can compete, to my taste, with a mere runner up from last year, Collectible Spoons of the Third Reich. Simply superbly strange. And all of these have the added spice of being sober books on genuine subjects.

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