Well folks, we’ve reached that time in the literary calendar again. The nominations have been announced for the 2014 Diagram Prize, which is awarded annually to the book with the oddest title of the year – and just so happens to be my favourite book award for that very reason (you can read about previous Diagram Prizes here).
So, as usual, here are this year’s prestigious nominees (and yes, these are all real, published books)…
Working Class Cats: The Bodega Cats of New York City by Chris Balsiger and Erin Canning
Are Trout South African? by Duncan Brown
How to Poo on a Date by Mats & Enzo
Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography by Jo Packham
How to Pray When You’re Pissed at God by Ian Punnett
The Origin of Faeces by David Walter-Toews
I’m not sure what my choice would be yet, but I’m currently leaning towards the South African fish for some reason. If you’d like to cast your vote for this year’s prizewinner, visit We Love This Book here. The results will be announced on March 21st and I’ll be reporting back on the title of the victorious volume…
For many people, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without a bit of Charles Dickens. Indeed, there is a strong argument to be made that it was the popularity of his works (and the often sentimental descriptions of the festive season therein) that actually went a long way towards reinventing the festival and creating what we now see as a ‘traditional’ Christmas. But even if you’ve never read any of his novels, there is one of his stories that everyone knows because its characters and events have become an integral part of our culture of Christmas – and it is the story behind that particular story I’ll be looking at today, on this Christmas Eve…
Born in February 1812, Charles Dickens had a peripatetic childhood, his family frequently moving to where his father’s job as a pay clerk in the Royal Dockyards took them. In the 1820s, his spendthrift father was jailed for debt, and the young Charles went to work in a blacking factory making shoe polish to help the family’s often parlous finances. This experience of family disruption and what we would now call child labour must have left deep psychological scars on the young man at a formative time in his life – it was certainly something he drew on in his later writings, as the reader can see in his ‘Christmas Books’ amongst others.
All this upheaval during his youth meant that Dickens had little formal education (he was mostly self-taught having effectively left school by the time he was 15), but his childhood experiences had made him ambitious and determined to make a success of himself from an early age. Starting out in a solicitor’s office, he worked his way into journalism and was a parliamentary reporter by the early 1830s. But he was also writing fiction, and his first short story was published in 1833. Three years later, the initial installment of his still-popular novel The Pickwick Papers was published and he rapidly became a household name as a result of its immediate success.
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3rd 1802
Earth hath not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendor, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
William’s sister Dorothy (1771-1855) was also a writer, and she kept a journal. It is this entry, recording a journey taken by the siblings through an early-morning London in July 1802, which is said to have inspired him to write this sonnet:
… we left London on Saturday morning at ½ past 5 or 6, the 31st July (I have forgot which) we mounted the Dover Coach at Charing Cross. It was a beautiful morning. The City, St Pauls, with the River & a multitude of little Boats, made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge. The houses were not overhung by their cloud of smoke & they were spread out endlessly, yet the sun shone so brightly with such a pure light that there was even something like the purity of one of nature’s own grand Spectacles.
Broaden your vocabulary with Another Kind Of Mind! I’m fascinated by words and where they come from – and the English language is full of some seriously weird examples of words describing and defining some incredibly random concepts you probably never knew existed. Researching this subject out of curiosity, I came across quite a few of these words which I had to share with you all.
So, every once in a while I’ll be defining a couple of these words for you – and here’s today’s…
A desire path (or desire line) is the name given to a concept you would never think actually had a name. You’ve probably seen plenty of desire paths in your own neighbourhood – they’re those shortcut tracks across grassy areas made by walkers and cyclists repeatedly cutting through from one place to another (you can see plenty of examples in this fascinating post over at the excellent Spitalfields Life).
Back in early March, I posted about The Diagram Prize, a literary award which exists to celebrate the oddest book title of the year. After a public vote, the 2013 winner was announced a week ago, with the prize going to Reginald Bakely’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop.
Horace Bent of The Bookseller magazine (which runs the annual prize) obviously approved of this year’s winner, commenting:
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.
The award was accepted on behalf of Mr Bakely by the book’s US editor Clint Marsh, who was clearly delighted at the prize:
Reginald and I take this as a clear sign that people have had enough of goblins in their chicken coops. Our campaign against the fairy kingdom continues.
Consider yourselves warned, fairy creatures all….
It’s that time of the year again. Forget the Oscars, bypass the BAFTAs, and just ignore the Grammys and the Brits, because the Diagram Prize has returned once more for its annual celebration of all that is literary and odd. Yes, the quirkiest literary prize of the awards season is back and celebrating its 35th birthday…
Awarded by The Bookseller magazine since 1978, the Diagram Prize exists to honour not the book of the year, nor even the oddest book of the year. Instead, the prize goes to the oddest book title of the year; a concept that greatly appeals to me (as you can probably see from my posts on previous Diagram Prize nominees here and here).
So, without further ado, here’s the nominations for this year’s oddest book title:
Was Hitler Ill? – Hans-Joachim Neumann and Henrik Eberle (Polity Press)
Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts – Jerry Gagne (Foy’s Pet Supplies)
God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis – Tom Hickman (Square Peg)
Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop – Reginald Bakeley (Conari)
How Tea Cosies Changed the World – Loani Prior (Murdoch)
How to Sharpen Pencils – David Rees (Melville House)
I’m still debating my choice of favourite title, although I’m wondering how you goblinproof anything – and I’m singularly curious to know how a whole book can be written about sharpening pencils…
If any of these bizarre titles have piqued your curiosity too, you can vote for your favourite here – the winner will be announced on 22nd March.
In March last year, I wrote about the impending cuts to our library services and why it’s just so important to save these vital community resources from closure and ‘rationalisation’. Recently, I was interested to note that the Public Libraries News had put together a list of library closures – and of those libraries still under threat from government policy.
[W]e are seeing a reduction in opening hours, book stock spending and staff in many library services. Local communities, families and individuals are more than ever facing a postcode lottery when it comes to the quality of library services they can expect to receive.
And good quality library services are a crucial aspect of any healthy community. I’m a regular user of my local library – and not just in order to borrow books, although I do that frequently. The libraries in my local area also offer everything from local history services and access to education information, newspapers and the internet, to storytime sessions for the little ones and book groups, family history tutorials and craft workshops for the grown ups.
As today would have been his 75th birthday…
Amongst all his legendarily Gonzo work, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is still probably most renowned for his writings on the Nixon era of American politics. He first interviewed the notorious ex-president for a magazine in 1968, meeting Tricky Dicky in a car on their way to the infamous politician’s private campaign jet.
On the airport runway once the interview was over, Hunter said farewell to Nixon and exited the car, immediately going to light a cigarette. Before he could get flame to fag, however, he was rugby tackled from the side and his lighter ripped from his hand:
I thought they had mistaken me for an assassin and they mistook the lighter for some kind of weapon… but the Secret Service agent who tackled me helped me up and began apologising very quickly. It turned out they were fueling the plane and I was standing just a few feet from the gas tank. I could have blown the fucker up and saved this nation a lot of trouble.*
Goddammit Hunter. God. Damn. It. One little cigarette could have changed history….
* ‘Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson’ – Paul Perry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993, p.130)
There’s something to be said for not having a telly. Mine blew up a couple of months ago (well, not exactly ‘blew up’. More like started making some very odd noises and then gradually gave up the ghost in a kind of “Ahh, sod it, I just can’t be bothered any more” sort of a way), and ever since, I’ve been reading like they’re about to close all the libraries.
Over the last couple of days, I’ve had my nose buried in Things Can Only Get Better, John O’Farrell’s amusing 1998 memoir of being a Labour Party supporter in the 1980s and 1990s, which I first read about ten years ago. Although I find much of O’Farrell’s work very funny (he wrote for the legendary TV satire show Spitting Image at its height, and is responsible for the highly amusing NewsBiscuit website), I don’t always agree with him – for a start, his devotion to Labour reminds me why I don’t support a specific political party and won’t be going into politics any time soon (or at all!)
From the 2010 Discworld novel I Shall Wear Midnight, which deals extensively with this theme:
It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.