I’m not a great fan of this time of year. OK, the days are visibly lengthening (which is good), but it is still cold and dark and grey in London, with a generous side-order of rain just to make things that much cheerier. I really can’t be doing with this lack of sunshine, it leaves me distinctly grumpy.
But there is one annual event which happens every February that never fails to make me smile, and that is the announcement of the Diagram Prize shortlist. For those who have never encountered the joys of the Diagram, it’s an unusual literary prize – awarded annually by The Bookseller magazine since 1978, it rather wonderfully celebrates the book with the oddest title of the year.
As I blogged about the Diagram in great detail last year, I’ll just leave you with the shortlist for the 2010 prize to ponder this time – and I can assure you that they are all very definitely odd indeed:
8th International Friction Stir Welding Symposium Proceedings – Various authors (TWI)
The Generosity of the Dead – Graciela Nowenstein (Ashgate)
The Italian’s One-night Love Child – Cathy Williams (Mills & Boon)
Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way – Michael R Young (Radcliffe)
Myth of the Social Volcano – Martin King Whyte (Stanford University Press)
What Color Is Your Dog? – Joel Silverman (Kennel Club)
My personal favourite? Without question, it has to be Managing a Dental Practice the Genghis Khan Way of course.… Can you imagine?
You can vote for your favourite odd title from the shortlist at The Bookseller’s website – the results will be announced on 25th March 2011.
Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a great fan of politicians generally. However, there are the odd one or two who somehow manage, against all the odds, to stick to their principles and hold firm in the face of our deluded political system, and it is they who have my respect and (in some cases) even grudging admiration.
Michael Foot, whose death at the age of 96 was announced today, was one such who fell into that latter category. A left-wing politician of the old school, who – unlike today’s rabble – was an idealist and a principled man, Foot was one of those rare politicians who did genuinely manage to stick to those principles, right until the end of his long and eventful life.
Like a lot of Labour politicians and commentators of his generation, Foot came from a relatively privileged background. Born into a Liberal and non-conformist family at Plymouth in July 1913, politics were almost a part of his genetic make up; his father was twice elected MP for a Cornish constituency, his three brothers were all involved in Liberal politics, and Foot himself became a Socialist during his time studying at Oxford.
The importance of those Socialist beliefs were forcefully brought home to him after his graduation when he spent some time working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool; an experience which exposed him to the realities of contemporary poverty and the social inequalities that were part of many ordinary people’s everyday lives. It was here, in 1934, that he joined the Labour Party and determined he would stand for Parliament.
Hooray! My favourite book prize of the year is back…
There are many literary awards in this country. Some may consider the prestigious Booker to be the pre-eminent literary prize in Britain; others may perhaps feel the same way about the Whitbread.
For me, there’s only one literary prize worth its while, and that is the Diagram Prize, run since 1978 by The Bookseller magazine to honour the oddest book title of the year; an idea that greatly appeals to my inner geeky bookworm. Much excitement thus ensued in my household when I learned that The Bookseller had announced their shortlist for the 2009 award last week.
Those of you who have followed Another Kind Of Mind from its old home may remember that I have blogged about the Diagram before – for someone with a mind like mine, the mere idea of a prize like this is irresistible, especially so when previous winners and nominees have included such fantastically, epically odd tomes as these; weird book titles for weird books from all over the world:
Sixty years ago, the world was still a very damaged and fragile place, despite the fact that World War Two had been over for five years and reconstruction was already beginning. Britain had effectively become a bankrupt ex-superpower as a result of the conflict, and the devastation of this world war was still fresh in the collective memory of all those who had lived through it, whether as soldier or civilian.
In cities and towns across the country, bomb sites still scarred the urban environment; acting as a constant daily reminder of the Luftwaffe’s concerted and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bomb Britain into submission. Many people were still homeless or living in temporary housing.
Food and other essential items were either still rationed or very scarce, resulting in the continuation of the wartime black market in desirable goods and foodstuffs like chocolate or butter. Emotions were still raw; families all over Britain and beyond still mourning the loss of loved ones killed in battle or amid the destruction of the home front. Recovery was a slow process.
And sixty years ago, in the midst of all this, the author of one of the most important and remarkable novels of modern times died. A year earlier, in 1949, this novel had been published, initially to confused and sometimes hostile reviews. Its author was an unusual man who had lived an unusual life, but who had been, at the time of publication and although still only in his forties, dying of advanced TB on a damp and remote Scottish island.
“Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so” – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy.
Time was always flexible in the hands of the late Douglas Adams. Well known for his intimate distrust of deadlines (“I love the whooshing noise they make as they fly by”, as he famously once said) and his spectacular bouts of writer’s block, he was thus an incorrigible procrastinator of the first order when it came to writing, and, on occasion, apparently had to be locked into a hotel room in order to complete the final draft of whichever novel he was writing at the time, only to be let out at intervals by his publisher for ‘supervised’ walks in case he should try to make a run for it!
He was, however, also a complete and utter genius. And I’m not the only one who reckons so; not by a factor of at least 15 million worldwide – as wildly improbable as that may sound (and, after that, anything you still can’t cope with is therefore your own problem, as Trillian so wisely puts it). His books are held in great affection by people of all ages, all across the galaxy, and have now been translated into more than thirty languages (presumably not including Vogon, as they lack all sense of poetry).
The story of how this rather tall, very funny and, sadly, now equally late genius came to write the cult classic Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy novels, which celebrated their thirtieth anniversary on October 12th, is (unsurprisingly) equally unreliable time-wise. There are several versions of the moment inspiration struck, some which are more true than others. To a given value of true, of course.
So it appears that New Order’s legendarily low-slung and grumpy bassist Peter Hook has written a book. I must admit I was pretty astonished when I heard the news as I’d never had Hooky down as the literary type, although I was less surprised when I heard what the book was about (of which, more below)….
Hooky’s authorial outpourings are just the latest installment in this year’s exciting episode of the continuing saga of the 80’s and 90’s Manchester music scene; a long-running and often quarrelsome saga that refuses to go away, despite the fact that many of its protagonists have long since produced their best material and should probably have sloped off into quiet rock legend retirement quite some time ago.
So far this year, we’ve had the latest set of rumours of a Stone Roses reformation (please god, never! I’d rather remember them at their incandescent early best than as the meandering stoner rawkers they had become by the end), rumours which appear to have been finally and firmly squashed by the recent news that Ian Brown – who did, after all, get custody of the talent when the Roses split – is to form a supergroup with the equally legendary Smiths/Electronic/Modest Mouse guitarist Johnny Marr. In fact, the Roses have been positively blooming this year (sorry…), what with the 20th anniversary special edition re-release of their truly classic and nigh-on perfect self-titled debut album getting rave reviews in the music press all over again, and guitarist John Squire’s solo art exhibition receiving column inches galore (admittedly, mainly only after it was noticed that one of the installations stated in no uncertain terms that he would play no part in any Roses reformation).