An examination of the Jewish origins of the Man of Steel, Is Superman Circumcised?, is vying with an up-to-date look at camel milk and related camel goods, Handbook of Research on Health and Environmental Benefits of Camel Products, for the dubious honour of the oddest book title of the year.
The prize was dreamed up in 1978 by the co-founders of The Diagram Group, to pass the time at the annual Frankfurt book fair. The inaugural award went to Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice, with winners in subsequent years ranging from Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers, to How to Avoid Huge Ships.
Six books are in the running for the 43rd prize, nominated by members of the book trade, with Curves for the Mathematically Curious up against Hats: A Very Unnatural History, The Life Cycle of Russian Things: From Fish Guts to Fabergé, and Miss, I Don’t Give a Shit: Engaging with Challenging Behaviour in Schools.
Tom Tivnan, the Bookseller’s managing editor and the prize’s co-ordinator, praised the academics who have written all six of the books in the running for the award.
“The erotic undertones of Curves for the Mathematically Curious is a good example – emphasised by Princeton University Press’s marketing copy which is quite frankly the horniest maths book blurb ever written: ‘A rigorous and enriching experience for anyone interested in curves … Every curve has a story worth telling.’ Goodness, is it hot in here, or is it just your Euler spiral and parametric equations?” said Tivnan.
“However, I was taken aback when Miss, I Don’t Give a Shit was submitted. My first thought was ‘I know children are different these days, but the Roger Hargreaves books have really taken a darker turn.’ Turns out, it’s not the latest Little Miss book, but a teacher’s guide to engaging with difficult students.”
But Tivnan predicted that Is Superman Circumcised? was likely to be a frontrunner for this year’s prize. “Diagram voters have long had a sometimes lamentable predilection for titles that refer, even obliquely, to naughty bits. I’m thinking of Charles L Dobbins’s 2019-winning self-published trapping guide, The Dirt Hole and Its Variations, and the Institute of Mechanical Engineers’ Designing High Performance Stiffened Structures which rose to the occasion to win the prize in 2000,” he said.
The winner will be chosen by a public vote on the Bookseller’s website, and announced on 3 December. The nominator of the winning entry receives a “passable” bottle of claret, but author and publisher receive nothing but glory.