Books for the News

What do baboons have to do with queer theory?

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Another year, another honor. Once again the University of Chicago Press has been longlisted for the Diagram Prize, a distinction handed out by the UK’s Bookseller magazine for the oddest book title of the year. This year’s honoree: Leo Bersani’s Is the Rectum a Grave? and Other Essays. The title is taken from the distinguished critic’s foundational essay in queer theory, which famously meditates on sex and the shattering of the self, but the collection documents over two decades in the life of one of the best minds working in the humanities.
Admirers of the Press and our catchy book titles will be quick to note that this is our second nomination in as many years. Last year, the distinguished Diagram Prize committee singled out Dorothy L. Cheney and Robert M. Seyfarth’s Baboon Metaphysics: The Evolution of a Social Mind, whose title derived from Darwin, who wrote in his diaries in 1838, “He who understands baboon would do more towards metaphysics than Locke.” Alas, we came in runner-up in the contest, ceding the title to the rather cheesy The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais. However, it should be noted, our book was actually written by humans—and very talented ones at that—whereas the winner’s content and title was computer-generated. So, we still claim a small, if unofficial victory, there.
For those keeping score, the University of Chicago Press has emerged the undisputed victor only once: in 1988, the Diagram Prize was awarded to Elaine Dee and Guy Walton’s Versailles: The View From Sweden, though, technically, since we only distribute that title for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, perhaps we can’t quite claim responsibility for a title that seems to imply the Swedes have very good eyesight.
Will 2010 be our year at last? Even the metaphysical baboons are rooting for us.