The question of what makes a great book title is one for the ages. The question of what makes an odd book title, on the other hand, is one for Horace Bent.
Bent writes for The Bookseller, the venerable U.K.-based book-business trade publication that, for 35 years, has bestowed the annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. The winner is determined by public vote, and this year the populace picked a doozy: Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop: And Other Practical Advice In Our Campaign Against The Fairy Kingdom, by Reginald Bakely. Bent explained why that decision made sense:
In Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop the public have chosen a hugely important work regarding the best way to protect one’s fowl from the fairy realm’s most bothersome creatures. Everyone knows well the hazards cats, dogs and foxes hold for owners of chickens, not to mention red mite, but the public has recognised the need to illuminate this hitherto under-reported nuisance.
The book, which was released Oct. 1, 2012, is a witty take on exactly what its title suggests, with chapters like “The Vileness of Changeling Eggs” and “Fairy Food and Drink” and “Springtime Means Gnoming.” The voters, however, may not know those facts because, as a 2009 New York Times piece about the prize made clear, reading the books is thought to introduce bias about their titles, which are meant to be the only consideration in voting.
The author and the editor of Goblinproofing graciously accepted the award as recognition of the importance of playfulness—and of general annoyance at chicken-stealing fairytale creatures. (Bakely gets only the honor and glory of recognition, but the Bookseller staffer who suggested his book for the list will get some wine.)
As Bent wrote in a 2009 post about the prize, it was originally intended as a diversion at the Frankfurt Book Fair but, even though the decision led to a smuttier sensibility than had previously been on show in the shortlist, voting was opened to the public in 2000.
This year’s diverse list of runners-up included How Tea Cosies Changed the World by Loani Prior, God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis by Tom Hickman, How to Sharpen Pencils by David Rees, Was Hitler Ill? by Hans-Joachim Neumann and Henrik Eberle, and Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts by Jerry Gagne. The first-ever winner of the Diagram Prize, in 1978, was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.