We’re #2!

March 27, 2009

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The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year was announced today and the winner is…drum roll please…not Baboon Metaphysics. The title (no pun intended) went to The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais. But, good news, baboon loyalists: we’re #2! Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth’s book commanded 22% of the vote to earn the coveted position of runner-up. (The title comes from Darwin, who wrote in his diaries in 1838, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.”)
Despite our also-ran status, the Press can claim this: ours is the oddest book title written by actual humans. You see, The 2009-2014 World Outlook was not authored by Philip M. Parker, as the byline on the cover suggests. Parker, as Noam Cohen wrote last year in the New York Times, “has developed computer algorithms that collect publicly available information on a subject — broad or obscure — and, aided by his 60 to 70 computers and six or seven programmers, he turns the results into books in a range of genres, many of them in the range of 150 pages and printed only when a customer buys one.” Which means, essentially, the book was written by a computer. As the Times reports today, “The work, actually a statistical report rather than a proper book, was written by Parker, a professor of marketing, who uses econometric models to publish niche reports in the thousands.” Horace Bent, a diarist on thebookseller.com, goes on: “And why did he choose to invent such a machine? Well, according to his submission to the United States Patent and Trademark Office: ‘There is a need for an automated system that eliminates, or substantially reduces the costs associated with human labour, such as authors, editors…’ However, given that fromage frais comes in 60-gram containers (NOT milli-gram), a copy editor would have been quite useful when it came to the text, one observes.” And just as the text is computer-generated, so, too, is the title. The official announcement from thebookseller.com explains: “Parker’s automated authoring invention … produces a title on the basis of complex internet and database searches.”
So here’s to the real, live authors out there who come up with odd book titles. And here’s to the real, live marketing and sales staffs who OK them. You’re all #1 in our hearts.

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