Need to know about cheese?

By Legal Eagle

Every year, British magazine The Bookseller runs a competition for the oddest book title. The winner for 2008 is “The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais”. It costs $795 on Amazon.

I was wondering how there could possibly be a market for a book like this, or why anyone would write it?  The answer can be found on Horace Bent’s blog at The Bookseller — the author didn’t really write it:

…[T]he listed author (Professor Philip M Parker) is no expert in the field of dairy product packaging. What he is, is a genius. Or a monster, depending on your point of view. For he has invented “a method and apparatus for automated authoring and marketing”. i.e. a machine that dispenses with those inconsequential things knows [sic] as authors. According to the New York Times, he plans to use it to produce romance novels. …

And why did he choose to invent such a machine? Well, according to his submission to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: “There is a need for an automated system that eliminates, or substantially reduces the costs associated with human labour, such as authors, editors…” However, given that fromage frais comes in 60-gram containers (NOT milli-gram), a copy editor would have been quite useful when it came to the text, one observes.

The New York Times notes that Philip M Parker has written 200,000 books in this way.

Baboon Metaphysics” came second, followed by “Curbside Consultation of the Colon” in third place. Fourth place went to  “Strip and Knit with Style“, followed by “The Large Sieve and its Applications” (sounds like it’s a mathematical sieve, not a real one) and “Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring“.

Actually (and I’m really serious here) that Baboon Metaphysics looks pretty interesting. It’s a study of the self-awareness of baboons, recounting the behaviour of a clan of baboons in Botswana. The social relations of those baboons have all the elements of a great soap opera (or a work of literature).

Past awards have found some truly bizarre titles:

  • If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start with Your Legs (2007 winner)
  • Reusing Old Graves (1994 winner)
  • Highlights in the History of Concrete (1995 winner)
  • High Performance Stiffened Structures (2000 winner)
  • Living with Crazy Buttocks (2002 winner – I actually have this book)
  • I Was Tortured By the Pygmy Love Queen (2007 contender)
  • Cheese Problems Solved (2007 contender)
  • Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers
    (1996 winner and winner of oddest title for past 30 years)
  • People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead (2005 winner)
  • How to Avoid Huge Ships (1992 winner)
  • Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (winner of the first award in 1978)
  • Bombproof Your Horse (2004 winner)
  • The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003 winner – are the horses lesbians? or are the horse riders lesbians??)
  • What do Socks do? (1982 contender)
  • Japanese Chins (1993 contender)
  • Egg Banjos from Around the World (1996 contender)

(There’s a full list here of all the winners and some honourable mentions here).

Hmm, if I ever publish my PhD thesis, I should think up a really strange title in an effort to get onto this list…

Update:

I just couldn’t help finding out what an “egg banjo” was – apparently it’s an egg sandwich, not a musical instrument.

16 Comments

  1. Posey
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    The most off-putting title of a book I’ve actually read (well, listened to on a long driving holiday) and loved to bits is Marina Lewycka’s “A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian”. It’s been a huge international success and made Ms Lewycka a bucket of money. The audio version is a total joy. Laugh I could have cried.

    I love the fact too that it was her first novel and had been rejected 36 times before being published in 2006 at the grand age of 58.

  2. Posted March 28, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Permalink

    If I saw ‘Highlights in the history of concrete’ on the bookshelf, I would grab it in a second. I love that title.

  3. Posted March 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm | Permalink

    Posey, it’s nice to read that 58 is a grand age. I’ll reach it in about 9 weeks, and I’m not convinced.

    Strip and knit with style? Why, when there are now such wonderful yarns of every hue and compostition available on teh internetz, would you strip up old fabric to re-use? Cheaper, I suppose.

  4. Posted March 29, 2009 at 6:08 am | Permalink

    I used to insist at uni that I was going to some day write a book and call it ‘The Mystical Significance of Chess’. Not because I knew what it meant, just because I’d love to come across a book with that title in the gigantic university library.

  5. Posted March 29, 2009 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    LE, I do knit lace, but only when I’m on holiday. I have a range of projects on the go at any one time: simple things like socks or plain garments for evenings when I’m tired, taking to appointments which will require waiting, etc, and slightly more complex things for other times. And usually one thing in lace for holidays. I knit to relax, not to get irritated and have to do things two or three times over to get them right.

  6. Lang Mack
    Posted March 29, 2009 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Some time ago I purchased a book from the great sale (Rotary) in Armidale NSW as a birthday gift for a friend who is world weary.
    “Advice and hints on Safety of Deep Sea Diving at North Sea Oil platforms;Issues and Cautions”
    He thought it was the most thoughtful gift he had ever been given, for his turning seventy.

  7. terry
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    I can recommend the book Rubbish Theory”.

    I kept on my office bookshop a discussion point when the latest management guru came round.

    It also develops a good theory on why art museums exist.

  8. Jennifer Marohasy
    Posted March 30, 2009 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    And how is the PhD coming along … and have you a preliminary title?

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