Don't judge these books by their titles
It is generally agreed that a snappy title helps the sales of a book, although some can be a real turnoff. With this in mind, for 40 years the English literary magazine Bookseller, has been holding an annual award for the oddest book title. Also known as the Diagram Prize, last year's winner was the enthralling The Commuter Pig Keeper which just edged out the thought-provoking Nipples on My Knee.
This year's winner, to be announced this weekend, looks like it has come down to a three-horse race between Joy of Waterboiling, Jesus on Gardening and front-runner Call of Nature: The Secret Life of Dung. For those who wish to know more about the dung book, it apparently offers "a journey through the digestive systems of humans, farm and wild animals". Sounds irresistible. On the cover it has an enticing picture of dung beetles at work.
The winning author will be presented with "a passable bottle of claret".
Alert readers will recall there was a Thai winner in 2012 with a book entitled Cooking With Poo by Saiyuud Diwong, who happens to be nicknamed "Poo". Voters in England were amused by the name. The award created deserved publicity for Saiyuud and the Urban Neighbours of Hope charity which sponsors her efforts running a Klong Toey community cooking school.
The book became a best-seller and Saiyuud appeared on celebrity chef Jamie Oliver's TV show, which inevitably prompted assorted "Jamie cooks with Poo" headlines in the British tabloids.
Over the years there have been some worthy winners. One that immediately springs to mind is the riveting Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers. Other notable efforts include the Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories and the enticing Big and Very Big Hole Drilling, rumoured to have been dedicated to Bangkok's road system.
One of the more memorable winners was Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality, which reportedly includes a chapter on the unorthodox uses of a carrot.
Who could resist the chance to read another compelling winner, The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America. This apparently reflects the increasingly popular US pastime of identifying abandoned supermarket shopping carts.
However the all-time champion must be the inaugural winner, Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.
Chainsaws and Estonian socks
In recent years there have been a number of books with noteworthy titles although they are not all award winners. I particularly like How to be Happy Though Married, which surely must be a best-seller. Something of a head-scratcher is Nuclear War: What's In It For You? while for those wanting to release a bit of aggression, maybe Wood-carving With a Chainsaw could prove useful.
Other memorable tomes were Estonian Sock Patterns Around The World and for greenfingers, Weeds In A Changing World. Another unforgettable title was Memoirs of a Japanese Chicken Sexer.
Even the most mundane subject matter can sound exciting given the right title. Italian food will never taste the same after reading The Thermodynamics of Pizza, while who could resist snuggling up in bed with a copy of The Romance of the Gas Industry.
It was Mark Twain who defined a literary classic as "a book which people praise and don't read", and he may have had a point. According to a UK survey, some of the best-selling books also rank among the books people are least likely to finish. But they look impressive on the bookshelf at home or in the office.
Among the tomes in the top 10 for not being finished by readers are Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace and Feodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, both of which proved a bit too much for most people, including myself.
Another obvious candidate is James Joyce's Ulysses which the survey gave the back-handed complement of being regarded as an "impenetrable masterpiece". A total of 28% in the survey admitted to giving up on Ulysses. More amazing is that 72% claimed they actually battled their way through the whole book. Now, they are true literary warriors.
Shades of tedium
Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre won the 2003 Booker Prize. But despite widespread critical acclaim, many gave up on it, with one critic calling it "a work of unutterably tedious nastiness and vulgarity".
Apparently only 25% of those who bought the erotic Shades of Grey actually made it to the finish. The book was not to everyone's taste and Salman Rushdie observed "I've never seen anything so badly written that got published."
Although Stephen Hawkins' A Brief History of Time sold 10 million copies, it was not brief enough for most people with only 6% making it to the end. Likewise, Hillary Clinton's Hard Choices was a best-seller, but apparently hard work as only a handful finished it.
Check it out
After all those weird titles, The Long Winding Road to Nakhon Nowhere seems rather ordinary. Just a reminder. I'm doing a book signing and giving an informal talk, assisted by former Post colleague Tony Waltham, at CheckInn99 on Sukhumvit Soi 33 this Tuesday from 6.30-8.30pm. The book could be an ideal Christmas present, especially for someone you don't like.
Admittedly, I'm only the warm-up act for the excellent Rolling Stones tribute band Midnight Ramblers who will take the stage after I'm booted off.
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Bangkok Post columnist
A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.
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