Oddest book titles prize: Can ‘How to Sharpen Pencils’ win?

Britain has more than its fair share of off-the-wall literary prizes. There’s the much-feared Bad Sex in Fiction Award for the “most embarrassing passages of sexual description in a literary novel.” This year marked the second annual Hatchet Job of the Year Award for the most cutting book review -- the winner got a year’s supply of potted shrimp. And then there’s the Diagram Prize for the oddest book title of the year.

The Diagram Prize announced its six-book shortlist on Friday. In online polls, residents of Britain can vote for the book title they find the most odd.

Can an American sway British readers?

How to Sharpen Pencils” is by artisinal pencil sharpener David Rees. “With an electric pencil sharpener, a pencil is meat,” Rees told The Times in 2010, before his book was completed. “It’s this thoughtless, Brutalist aesthetic. For me, it’s almost a point of pride that I would be slower than an electric pencil sharpener.”


Rees’ book has some genuinely odd competition. The other books on the shortlist are “Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop” by Reginald Bakeley, “God’s Doodle: The Life and Times of the Penis” by Tom Hickman, “Lofts of North America: Pigeon Lofts” by Jerry Gagne, “How Tea Cosies Changed the World” by Loani Prior, and “Was Hitler Ill?” by Hans-Joachim Neumann and Henrik Eberle.

If British readers decide to vote nationalistically, “How Tea Cosies Changed the World” is going to win by a country mile. But perhaps “How to Sharpen Pencils” has a chance; it’s the favorite of Philip Stone, the Diagram Prize coordinator.

“I am particularly fond of ‘How to Sharpen Pencils,’” he said on the prize’s website. “Not only because of its oddity, but because I find something beautiful in the fact a publisher has been brave enough to publish a book concerning a centuries-old implement in hardback in the digital age.”

The winner of the Diagram Prize is to be announced March 22.


Bill O’Reilly plans on ‘Killing Jesus’

Age of Edison’ sheds light on how America got wired

Announcing the 2012 L.A. Times Book Prize finalists
Join Carolyn Kellogg on Twitter, Facebook and Google+