Law books are not generally known for having interesting titles. Most carry functional but yawn-inducing titles such as Business Law in Ontario. Typically, after a respectable number of editions, a legal author’s name is fused to the topic, as in Chitty on Contracts or Orkin on Costs. And sometimes successive authors of a legal treatise share space in the title – Coke on Littleton, Sullivan and Driedger on the Construction of Statutes, etc.
No such staid conventions exist in the world of non-legal book titles. There’s even an annual prize for the oddest non-fiction book title.
The Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year was first awarded in 1978. The prize was the invention of Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson, co-founders of the publishing firm, The Diagram Group. The two dreamed up the prize as a way to relieve boredom while working at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair. The winner of this year’s prize, marking the 41st anniversary, was just announced last week.
The Oddest Book Title contest rules are simple: author and publisher of the winning title receive no tangible prize, only publicity. The nominator of the winning title however receives “a passable bottle of claret”.
To get an idea of what it takes to be a Diagram winner, here are a few recipients from past years:
1992 – How to Avoid Huge Ships (advice to pleasure boat sailors on the dangers of shipping lanes)
1993 – American Bottom Archaeology (an archaeological history of the Mississippi River Valley)
2004 – Bombproof Your Horse (techniques for training horses to be less easily spooked by the unexpected)
2010 – Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way (practice management tips on “how to build an empire in the dentistry field”)
Surprisingly, at least one legal book has won the dubious honour of oddest book title. In 2001, the prize was awarded to Butterworths Corporate Manslaughter Service, a serious guide for lawyers dealing with corporate liability for manslaughter and fatal accidents.
This discovery inspired Great Library staff members to seek out odd legal titles on our shelves.
Here are our staff’s top picks for oddest legal book titles in the Great Library’s print collection, arranged by category:
Best Alliteration or Rhyme
- Beer, Butter and Barristers (report on reforming Canada’s Competition Act)
- Bewigged and Bewildered? (with apologies to Rodgers and Hart, a guide to becoming a barrister in England and Wales)
- The Lunatic and the Lords (sensational murder trial at the Old Bailey)
- Pine and Swine (lumber, pork and dispute settlement under the Canada-U.S. FTA)
- Is Eating People Wrong? (essays on notable common law cases, including the 1884 cannibalism at sea case of R v Dudley and Stephens)
- Lawyers and Vampires: Cultural Histories of Legal Professions (collection of essays including “He Would Have Made a Wonderful Solicitor: Law, Modernity and Professionalism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”)
- Why Lawyers Love Golf (helping lawyers understand “the legal dimensions of golf”)
- Why Lawyers Should Eat Bananas (no nutrition tips, just “inspirational ideas for lawyers wanting more out of life”)
and Best Miscellaneous
- An Essay on the Legality of Impressing Seamen (18th century text on forcible recruitment by the British Navy)
- Fat Cats and Lucky Dogs (an estate planning guide for pet owners)
- It Takes Two Judges to Try a Cow (collection of bizarre legal cases)
- Splinters: or A Grist of Giggles (amusing anecdotes about the legal profession, circa 1886)