Book prizes

Odd Book Titles

Every day seems to bring news of a literary prize. Some are restricted to particular genres, others to authors from specific parts of the world, others celebrate the work of illustrators. Never have I come across a prize which is awarded purely on the strength of the book’s title. Or rather on the oddity of the title.

Step forward the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title, a prize that seeks out the ” crème de la crème of unintentionally nonsensical, absurd and downright head-scratching titles.” What a wonderfully bizarre idea. But not as bizarre as some of the titles that have made the shortlist.

Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China. 

Now that one got your attention didn’t it? And if you feel bereft by reaching the end of that, take heart from the fact that there were two earlier conferences whose proceedings were undoubtedly committed to paper.

Some must have been the product of a desperate marketing assistant tasked to find a title, any title that could help shift sales. Anyone fancy The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones ? It’s a lot less odd however than some previous winners: The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories in 2003 or Cooking with Poo in 2012.

Looking through my own bookshelves I don’t appear to have very much that could be considered particularly odd or even quirky in the fiction category. Having given away my copy of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (a delightfully silly book if you haven’t read it), the nearest I can get is New Finnish Grammar  which threw my mum into a panic when she saw it lying on the coffee table and thought I was about to reveal I was moving to Finland to work. The brow wrinkled even further when I explained that actually this was a work of fiction.

Non fiction was a bit more rewarding. The Company Culture Cookbook could be classed as mildly unusual maybe for a business book, or Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson’s account of his humanitarian work in setting up schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. But again, not really odd. Maybe I’m too sensible to buy odd sound books. Next time I go book shopping I shall make a point of seeking out something rather more out of the norm.

How about you – do you have any odd sounding books in your collection?



What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

7 thoughts on “Odd Book Titles

  • Love Dan’s cli-fi discussion. I only came across that term recently, but I like the fact that it exists, and I do see it as a new “genre” worthy of some sort of description.

    But, my main reasons for commenting was on the Diagram prize. I blogged about it a few years ago as I loved the idea.

    I do have some fun/strange titles in my library, such as “Hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world”, “The life and opinions of Maf the dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe” and “Everyman’s rules for scientific living”. My favourite non-fiction one is “The man who mistook his wife for a hat”. One I don’t have but my mother does is “The hundred-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared”.

    The thing about odd titles is that they can be hard to remember – and I wonder whether that creates a problem for marketing?

  • ”Booktalk” and ”Lisa Hill”, above, re what is cli fi?: ……..It is NOT a marketing gimmick. See the academic website here at for some background on the cli fi genre term, and you will understand more about it. And to hear my POV about the differences between cli fi and sci fi, read my blog post here:

    TEXT by Dan Bloom: More and more Australian novelists are embracing the cli-fi genre, either directly as Alice Robinson has in her powerful new cli-fi debut novel titled ANCHOR POINT, or indirectly in James Bradley’s equally powerful cli fi novel titled CLADE.

    Reviews for both books are appearing worldwide now on websites and blogs, and all you gotta do is Google the titles or check the summaries at Amazon.

    With more and more academics in Australia embracing the cli fi meme, and the Marquarie Dictionary naming cli fi one of the key new terms of 2014, cli fi has found a home in Australia, too, with Robinon and Bradley leading the way this year. For sure, there is more to come Down Under, er, Up Above! Look at the world map and globe in a different way once in a while and see reality for what it is. It is not what we always think it is.

    As Borges said, this ALL might just be ONE BIG DREAM that some diety from Asteroid Az101556 is dreaming, and when SHE wakes up, we will all be gone. Like that! In an instant! PUT THAT IN YOUR PIPE AND SMOKE IT.

    But for now, know that cli fi is the next cab off the rank, as book critic Jason Steger put it in the Sydney Morning Herald recently.

    NOTE: While some book blog reviewers and newspaper critics have put James Bradley’s novel CLADE in the sci fi camp, if you look at the book and read for what it is, IT IS NOT sci fi at all.

    As one reviewer in the so-called NORTHERN part of the globe wrote in his very good review of the novel: “Clade is science fiction, but it doesn’t feature any spaceships, aliens, or malevolent robots. Clade’s technology is believable advances of gadgets we’re already used to.”

    So then, if there are no ”spaceships, aliens, or malevolent robots” and the technology in the novel is in fact just ”very believable advances of gadgets we’re already used to,” then why label his novel as sci fi? It is not sci fi at all.

    Just because a novel or movie takes place in the future does not mean it is sci fi. To be sci fi, a novel must have spaceships, aliens, malevolent robots, clocks that strike 13 and wormholes to Earth-like planets. Stuff like that. ”Clade” has none of that. ”Clade” is about humankind’s future in relationship to climate change and global warming. It is a very well written and crafted cli fi novel. Period.

    It’s true, ”sci-fi fans get excited about speculative future technologies and out-there social effects,” and that’s cool. There’s a place for sci fi in our lives, for sure. But James Bradley new cli fi novel is not a sci fi novel. It’s about people who dwell in the VERY near future, and it’s not about spaceships, aliens, or malevolent robots at all. Read it and shelve in your ”cli fi” rack.

    Some reviewers have taken to calling CLADE as sci fi because they cannot think of another term for it. But ther IS a better literary term for it: cli-fi. A cousin of sci fi but in a different leagure entirely.

    As for Alice Robinson’s ANCHOR POINT, notice nobody is calling it a sci fi novel, even though it also takes place in the future. Even the author herself refers to it as a cli fi novel. James Bradley might soon refer to his novel as a cli fi novel, too, and drop the sci fi tag. But it’s up to him, of course.
    And in the end, what matters in literature is the STORY, the content of the book, and not the label critics give it. Cli fi, sci fi, schmi-fi — what matters is the storytelling chops and both Robinson and Bradley have talent up the kazoo when it comes to telling powerful, rivetting stories.

    That’s what matters

    • Thanks Dan for that insight. I’ll take a look at the site when I have a moment. By the way I agree with your comment in the final paragraph that the label is irrelevant and its the contents that matter.

    • The book called How to Avoid Big Ships brought on a fit of giggles here Nordie. Does anyone really need to read a book about this? Its so obvious how to avoid them isn’t it?

  • This is great! I still have A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian on my shelf and the only other one that might be considered weird would be The Man Who Was Thursday, A Nightmare.

    • Now was it a nightmare because he really wanted to be Wednesday?


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