‘Was Hitler Ill?’, ‘How to Sharpen Pencils’ in Odd Titles

“How to Sharpen Pencils,” “Was Hitler Ill?” and “How Tea Cosies Changed the World” are among finalists for the annual Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title.

First awarded in 1978 and organized by the U.K.’s Bookseller trade magazine, the prize seeks to celebrate the diversity of publishing.

Past winners include “The Joy of Chickens,” “How to Avoid Huge Ships,” “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers” and “Versailles: The View From Sweden.”

This year’s finalists -- announced by the Bookseller in an e-mailed statement -- also include “Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts,” “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop” and “God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis.”

The contending titles were nominated by publishers, booksellers, authors, agents and librarians. The person who nominates the winner receives a bottle of “fairly passable” claret.

“Was Hitler Ill?” by Hans-Joachim Neumann and Henrik Eberle (Polity Press) is an analysis by a historian and professor of medicine of the German dictator’s mental condition. David Rees’s book about pencils, published by Melville House, is a lengthy illustrated guide for artists and others on how to achieve a perfect point.

First awarded in 1978, the contest was conceived as a way to avoid boredom at the Frankfurt Book Fair, Bookseller editors say. The inaugural prize in 1978 went to “Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice.”

Genghis Dentists

Since 2000, the prize has been put to a public vote, allowing “the unwashed masses to decide,” as a past Bookseller release put it. Since then, winning titles have included “Living With Crazy Buttocks,” “Cooking With Poo,” “The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais,” “Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way” and “If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.”

The prize has become an institution, generating two bound collections of winning jackets, including “How to Avoid Huge Ships: And Other Implausibly Titled Books.”

The winner will be announced on March 22. Information: http://www.thebookseller.com/diagram-prize

(Mark Beech writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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