It will come as no surprise to some readers that I am rather fond of strange and possibly even humorous literary contests, such as those that reward people for deliberately writing awful prose in the style of certain famous authors. You can even buy a compilation of The Best of Bad Hemingway.
Some awards are not so nice and reward people for deliberately writing awful prose in the style of non-famous and unsuspecting persons, e.g. applicants to graduate programs. And some awards are for writing that wasn't supposed to be bad, but is. I don't know if there is an academic equivalent of the Bad Sex in Literature Contest, but the Broader Impacts section of some NSF proposals is a possibility.
There is also an award for the "Oddest Book Title of the Year", the Bookseller/Diagram prize, sponsored by The Bookseller magazine. I like the concept of this award, but I am not impressed with the typical result, which is to choose an obscure technical/science publication that sounds weird to the non-technical/non-science reading public. I suppose these are the publications that best fit the criterion that the book not have been intentionally given an odd name, but I don't like the science-is-weird implications.
The winner this year, based on internet voting, involves a technical report generated to evaluate a certain size and type of dairy container. Other candidates are similarly technical, and in my opinion there is nothing strange about them except that their intended audience is rather specialized; e.g. The Large Sieve and its Application or Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring. What is so odd about those? I find it a bit alarming that a publication on corrosion monitoring would be seen as bizarre.
Similarly Baboon Metaphysics may seem somewhat strange as a title, but the topic of consciousness in primates is not so odd.
The belief that technical-sounding things are bizarre and therefore probably irrelevant is dangerous thinking. It can lead, for example, to suspicion and disapproval about how federal funds are spent; e.g. the recent infamous incidents involving rants by politicians about bear DNA studies and volcano monitoring.
This science-is-weird trend is a tradition for this particular Odd Title award, though. The first winner, in 1978, was for Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. Anyone who even glances at certain general-interest science journals and magazines from time to time knows about nude mice and why they are useful in biomedical research. This is not weird, irrelevant fringe-research.
I would find an Odd Title contest more interesting and less alarming if the eligible titles weren't chosen so much out of techno-ignorance. I realize, though, that fiction books may be deliberately given a strange title, and therefore they aren't quite as unselfconsciously odd.
Perhaps a compromise might be novels with names that appear to be technical manuals, e.g. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian (Marina Lewyck), which I read a couple of years ago, primarily because of its title.
1 month ago