Sunday, September 07, 2008


I was reading the blog of Chris, who resides in an office not far from mine. He is a very clever soul and he wrote something last week which, in a flash, made me realise the true, fundamental purpose of the Internet, immediately raising his CYUIB* by one whole point.

You can forget all the Porno, Rumpy-Pumpy sites – they’re for the birds, or more probably the blokes. My colleague brought to my attention the issue of Unusual Book Titles, and the Diagram Prize. This is given annually for the most Unusual Book Title of the Year. I think it’s one of those events which could only happen in some of the more closely interbred and undeveloped parts of England (London), but thank Goodness for it. The best single word to describe it is Dottiness.

Without www-land, I would never have been able to wander around cyberspace for an hour or so, reading this and that about the strange and weird ways people have found to title a book they’ve written. Quite, quite pointless, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

If I had tried to respond to a question from my wife as to what it was I was doing at the time, I’d have ended up with one of those slightly matronising (is that the female version of patronising?) looks that suggest that I should get a very different life – and rather soon. But, Chacon à son goût, or as the French say, Each to their own.

The Diagram Prize has been going for 30-odd years now, and is voted for by subscribers to the Bookseller magazine. Just Google “Diagram Prize” if you want a few minutes wandering around on this particular Dark Side of the Moon. The point of the thing is that the titles have to exist, and that the authors must be quite serious, and I suspect oblivious, to the possible dottiness of the title. None of this Bulgarian Tractor nonsense.

How about –

- The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification.

- Cheese Problems Solved (lovers of cheese will be thrilled to note that apparently, Cheddar, Blue cheese and Mozzarella all have their own sections in the book

- The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories

- Bombproof Your Horse (my friend Chris’s favourite, for reasons I haven’t pried into - yet)

- People who Mattered in Southend

- Tiles of the Unexpected: A Study of Six Miles of Geometric Tile Patterns on the London Underground - (There’s a Boom-Boom in there somewhere near the beginning)

and the Winner of Winners, over the 30 years was –

Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers

Now that taster may be enough for you, and you can leave it at that if so wish, but we need to delve a little deeper.

The Greek Rural Postmen Book (ISBN No. 0950946133), is published by the Helenic Philatelic Society, and a guy named Joel Ricket was contacted by the author’s son to tell him that his father was still with us at the age of 90, was in excellent health, and remained “the leading authority on the subject”. A comment on his Ricket’s blog from a respondent, runs –

It's so sad I can never experience, what's so wonderful about the title Greek Rural Postmen and their Cancellation Numbers? As a collector of the number cancellations of Finnish rural postmen, I found the title very informative and interesting...

You couldn’t make it up, could you?

Picking another at random, what about “People who mattered in Southend”? Written by Dee Gordon (ISBN 0860255433), it has no Amazonian customer reviews (yet!) and is currently unavailable, although a Southend Library spokesman’s opinion (possibly not unbiased) is that “It’s a great read so hurry along to one of the libraries to get hold of a copy!”. Amazon, as a contrast, rather ominously records - “We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock.”

For those of us actually yet to finish any of the Booker Prize selections they’ve started, I’m heading off down this trail in the future. It sounds much more fun.

* Cumulative, Year to date, Unadjusted level of Indebtedness and Beholdenness



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