Titular Titillations

March 26: Alex Comfort died on this day in 2000. Comfort was a novelist, a poet, and an author of many books on medical, scientific, and social topics, but he is most remembered for his 1972 bestseller, The Joy of Sex. In fact, Comfort's book, or its offspring, has a rarefied place in book history: The Joy of Sex, the Pocket Edition won the 1997 Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year. Bookseller magazine has been handing out its Oddest Title prize since 1978, the winner selected from entries submitted by librarians, publishers, booksellers, readers—anybody who wants the title-picking award: a bottle of champagne or claret.

 

The prize is supposed to go to a book with an unintentionally funny title, though often it's just the oddness that provides the humor. A book of nominees and winners was published in 2008 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the contest, at which time the organizers awarded a special "Diagram of Diagrams Award" to the title voted "oddest of the oddest" over the three decades—Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers. The evidence suggests that the Postmen won only by a dust-jacket:

  • The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prostitution   
  • Versailles: The View From Sweden
  • How to Avoid Huge Ships   
  • Highlights in the History of Concrete    
  • Developments in Dairy Cow Breeding: New Opportunities to Widen the Use of Straw   
  • Bombproof Your Horse   
  • People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It
  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs
  • Strip & Knit With Style
  • Baboon Metaphysics
  • The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais

The selection committee regrets that its task is getting increasingly difficult: "We received a huge number of entries this year and the debate was furious as to which would be included on the shortlist. Six seems such a cruelly low number given titles such as Excrement in the Late Middle Ages and All Dogs Have ADHD were rejected."

 

This year’s winner, announced on March 25, 2011, is Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way by Michael R. Young (Radcliffe Publishing).


Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John's, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.

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