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anyone for some tittle tattle?

When someone asks: "What are you reading?', don't you long to be able to say: "Proceedings Of The Second International Workshop on Nude Mice"?

Or "Highlights In The History Of Concrete"? Or "Greek Rural Postmen And Their Cancellation Numbers"?

The shortlist for one of the book industry's very best awards – the Diagram Prize For Oddest Book Title Of The Year – has just been announced, and once again it doesn't disappoint. Among the tempting entrants are Goblinproofing One's Chicken Coop, Was Hitler Ill? and the authoritative How Tea Cosies Changed The World. If Richard and Judy don't have these in one of their book clubs anytime soon, then frankly they're not worth the sofas they sit on.

The mice and concrete and postmen are all previous winners, but to be honest, there are so many one could mention. The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History And Its Role In The World Today is good, but something tells me you've already read it. Ditto that bible of the metalworking industry, Unsolved Problems Of Modern Theory Of Lengthwise Rolling. Time then, to curl up with Versailles: The View From Sweden, which, I'm sure I don't need to tell you, concerns the influence of French Baroque and Classicism on design in contemporary Sweden. My goodness, wouldn't they make a three for two to die for?

The prize was founded by the information and graphics company Diagram at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1978. The very best entrants are those that are unintentionally amusing. The Joy Of Sex is not of itself a funny title. But in 1997 the publishers brought out a new version: 'The Joy Of Sex: Pocket Edition'.

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide To Field Identification was deliberately titled and made to look a bit like a Collins bird guide. Still amusing, but not as good as Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service, a serious tome that isn't meant to raise a smile but does. Better still the absurdly detailed People Who Don't Know They're Dead: How They Attach Themselves To Unsuspecting Bystanders And What To Do About It.

If you want more of this, hunt out Bizarre Books by Russell Ash and Brian Lake. Here you'll find Fish Who Answer The Telephone, The Romance Of Leprosy and, in a chapter entitled Against all Odds: Titles To Make The Heart Sink, the alluring Working with British Rail.

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