Titular Titillations

March 26:Alex Comfort died on this day in 2000. Comfort was a novelist, a poet, and an authorof many books on medical, scientific, and social topics, but he is mostremembered for his 1972 bestseller, TheJoy of Sex. In fact, Comfort’s book, or its offspring, has a rarefied placein book history: The Joy of Sex, thePocket Edition won the 1997 Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Title ofthe Year. Bookseller magazine hasbeen handing out its Oddest Title prize since 1978, the winner selected fromentries submitted by librarians, publishers, booksellers, readers—anybody whowants the title-picking award: a bottle of champagne or claret.

The prize is supposed togo to a book with an unintentionally funny title, though often it’s just theoddness that provides the humor. A book of nominees and winners was publishedin 2008 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the contest, at which time theorganizers awarded a special “Diagram of Diagrams Award” to the titlevoted “oddest of the oddest” over the three decades—Greek Rural Postmen and Their CancellationNumbers. The evidence suggests that the Postmenwon only by a dust-jacket:

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

The selection committeeregrets that its task is getting increasingly difficult: “We received ahuge number of entries this year and the debate was furious as to which wouldbe included on the shortlist. Six seems such a cruelly low number given titlessuch as Excrement in the Late Middle Agesand All Dogs Have ADHD were rejected.”

This year’s winner, announced on March 25, 2011, is Managinga 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.