The Diagram Prize

Each year the Bookseller magazine runs the Diagram Award which is for the book published in the last year with the oddest title; these are real published books, submitted by booksellers – last year’s winner was If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs. This year’s final shortlist contender are:

Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy L Cheney and Robert M Seyfarth

Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D Cash

The Large Sieve and its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski

Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski

Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Lietai Yang

The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Professor Philip M Parker

The award will be announced on March 27th and is an annual event enjoyed by British booksellers. Personally I’ve always loved it, its a bit of fun and it appeals to my sense and love of the Absurd that these are the real titles of actual books (it also nicely reinforces the commonly held perception that we in Britain, especially among the literary fraternity, are, to put it politely, ‘eccentric’, which is no bad thing in my opinion. Booksellers, librarians and bookshops should be a little eccentric and individual). Link via the BBC

This Way Up

Britain’s nominee for possible Oscar glory in the short animation category this year is This Way Up, a lovely little Edward Gorey-esque dark comedy of a father and son undertakers attempting to bury a little old lady after an unlikely accident sees the hearse flattened with a boulder, taking them struggling across country with the coffin and then into the Afterlife in their quest to finish the job, all performed without words. For a change instead of just reading about it or seeing a clip we can actually watch the entire short animation on the BBC’s Film Network site (the Beeb part funded the film by Nexus’ Adam Foulkes and Alan Smith). While you’re there have a poke around the rest of that site because the Beeb have some other animation and other short film gems there (I’m not sure if it is geo-locked to only play for folks with UK ISPs or not though and you will need Windows Media Player or Real Player to watch it).

Eagle Awards – a shameless plea for votes!

The first ballot form for voting in the annual Eagle Awards, the UK’s major comics and graphic novel awards, opened the other week online – anyone can cast their votes and eventually the nominees will be narrowed down to a final shortlist with the winners revealed at the Bristol International Comics Expo in May. There are a number of categories – writers, artists, newcomers, series, best original graphic novel (that basically means one which first came out as a graphic novel rather than a book collecting a story previously issued in weekly or monthly comics form) and also favourite comics related website in which you can (if you so wish) vote for the Forbidden Planet Blog which I set up just under three years ago and work on alongside my duties on the main FPI webstore, posting comics and SF news, reviews and interviews and generally trying to draw attention to some good writers and artists. Yes, this is a shameless plea for votes!

Oscar time

I was posting about the short animated film winner at last night’s Oscars on the FPI blog earlier today and being the nosy bugger I am I had a look for something online so I could point readers to where they could check out a bit of the film, but couldn’t see much more than a very basic website for Mikrofilm. So I dropped them a line and heard back very quickly from a very nice lady called Lise there who sent me a link to this fetching site where you can have a look at the (now Oscar winning) Danish Poet by Torill Kove, with narration by Liv Ullman, with a clip and various other snippets of this quite gorgeous looking animation (I thought the art reminded me of a cross between children’s picture books and Metaphrog’s lovely Louis comics).

On the other end of the Oscar scale how brilliant is it that Martin Scorcese was finally awarded the Best Director Oscar? Ironic that it isn’t actually for his finest work which the Academy didn’t recognise in previous years, although The Departed is still a damned fine movie (right to the end which I didn’t see coming), but given they have overlooked him for decades and he is pretty much the greatest living American director (and still working) it is amazing he has been so overlooked by Oscar for so long. Thank goodness they finally gave it to him; I was worried Marty was going to end up with one of those ‘lifetime achievement’ awards which usually mean the recipient has about a year to live – those things are the kiss of death :-).

Booker

The longlist for the most prestigious literary award in the UK has been announced – 22 titles on the longlist for this year’s Booker Prize. Actually I am surprised to see so many of the big players being passed over this year in favour of new blood – I approve of this and certainly the stuffy old Booker does need a fair old spring cleaning and updating. Prestigious perhaps, but also often pretentious – I get the impression as both a reader and a bookseller that this is often a judging panel which picks ‘literary’ fiction of the sort that will make them look ever so clever and cultured for picking it. There have been some more interesting, fresher and – gasp – more popular choices in recent years, with DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little or Arnudhati Roy springing to mind.

However once more the unspoken rule of the literary snobs has been enforced – there are no genre titles in here. There are, as pretty much always, no Science Fiction, Horror, Crime or Romance novels. Why is this? The Booker is set up to select from the last year’s FICTION, looking for good writing. It does not proscribe the genres in the rules, yet every year it discriminates against them.

Now, I am not calling for an opening of the floodgates – plenty of genre titles are workmanlike at best and not worthy of consideration – but then I could say the same of bestselling and ‘literary’ fiction (what do they mean? No-one can properly quantify this but they still use it. I think they are afraid to explain it because it reveals that the only distinction is one of snobbery). However, if you set up a fiction prize to pick the finest writing then why do you discriminate automatically against so many genres and authors (and by inference their millions of readers)??? This is the literary equivelant of apartheid and is despicable and indefensible. Why, for instance, is Neal Stephenson’s stunning piece of prose, Quicksilver, not on the list? In my professional opinion it could trounce most of the books on the longlist for style, wit, invention, erudtion, scholarly accuracy and wonder, easily the equal of Umberto Eco. Yet this literary masterpiece is not in there, because, I believe, it is tarred with the genre label. No wonder the genre fans and writers have their own awards, such as the Edgars or CWAs for Crime, the Bram Stoker or the Arthur C Clarke Award (won of course by Quicksilver this year).

I have made this speech and many similar ones on far too many occasions. I’m tired of having to make this argument. I’m tired of arguing for something that should be obvious by rights. But I have a Dream.

(apologies to the great Martin Luther King)