From an academic study of the anus to a photography book about Soviet bus stops, this year’s Oddest Book Title of the Year award is shaping up to be a hotly fought contest.
The Bookseller awards its annual Diagram Prize to the most surreal titles published in the past twelve months. The winner is chosen by public vote from seven nominees, with the 2016 shortlist dubbed “one of the strongest in living memory”.
Jonathan Allan’s Reading From Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus is surely the favourite, alongside Alan Stafford’s musical hall troupe biography, Too Naked for the Nazis. Christopher Herwig’s Soviet Bus Stops is beautiful but bizarre while Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy by William Furley and Victor Gysembergh is a rigorous exploration of sacrificial sheep.
Other contenders include Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space: A Consideration of Cult Film, Behind the Binoculars: Interviews with Acclaimed Birdwatchers and ambiguously named craft book, Paper Folding with Children.
Most iconic book covers
Most iconic book covers
1/12 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
Francis Cugat designed the cover art for Fitzgerald's quintessential jazz age novel. He finished it before the book was complete and the author liked it so much he 'wrote it into' the novel.
2/12 The Godfather - Mario Puzo
This 1969 cover art was produced by S Neil Fujita and became so iconic that the gothic typeface and puppeteer's hand were used as imagery in the film too.
3/12 The Cat in the Hat - Dr Seuss
Theodor Seuss Geisel designed this cartoon for his own 1957 children's classic.
4/12 Fifty Shades of Grey - EL James
If this cover to EL James' first erotic novel isn't one of the most iconic sleeves of recent times, we don't know what is.
5/12 The Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
Salinger was known for being fussy when it came to his book designs. He liked them simple with the only words being his name and the title, like this one by E Michael Mitchell.
6/12 'Porno' - Irvine Welsh
DJ Design came up with this crass cover for Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting sequel that few book-buyers could walk by without noticing.
7/12 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
American jazz musician and designer Paul Bacon created this simple yet striking cover for Heller's novel. He is also the man behind the One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Slaughterhouse-Five sleeves.
8/12 One Day - David Nicholls
Craig Ward designed this bright romantic sleeve for David Nicholls' 2009 novel.
9/12 A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
David Pelham came up with this famous cover ten years after A Clockwork Orange was first published in 1962.
10/12 In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
S Neil Fujita designed this crime thriller's sleeve using a classic typeface, a strong black border and a simple drop of blood. The drop was brighter at first but Capote asked for it to be made darker as time had elapsed since the murders.
11/12 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Illustrator Elmer Hader painted this by Steinbeck's request for his 1939 novel. He then created the cover art for East of Eden and The Winter of Our Discontent, too.
12/12 Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
Edward McKnight Kauffer's powerful artwork represents the protagonist who is struggling to assert his identity in a world of hate.
Horace Bent, The Bookseller diarist, has been awarding the Diagram Prize since 1982. “I’m particularly pleased with the academic bent this year,” he said. “Reading from Behind: A Cultural History of the Anus is really trying to get to the bottom of its subject matter. Meanwhile, Reading the Liver: Papyrological Texts on Ancient Greek Extispicy has become my go-to book on divining the will of the gods from the entrails of animals; I can also imagine it becoming the core text at a pop-up street food vendor in Shoreditch.
“And Transvestite Vampire Biker Nuns from Outer Space is not only a trenchant examination of cult film but would be an excellent theme for your next fancy dress party.”
Winners do not receive a cash prize, but a “passable bottle of claret” is up for grabs for the person who nominates the triumphant entry.
Past winning titles include How to Poo at Work, Strangers Have the Best Candy, Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories and How to Avoid Huge Ships.
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