The Oddest Book Title of the Year prize has been won by Prof. Philip M Parker, for his book “The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais”.
Parker has “written” over 200,000 books, and yes, there is a reason why I’ve put written in quotes. Parker has, apparently, invented a machine which, as the Guardian says, writes books, creating them from Internet and database searches in order to eliminate or substantially reduce “the costs associated with human labour, such as authors, editors, graphic artists, data analysts, translators, distributors and marketing personnel”. Not to mention the complete elimination of originality and talent, or anything else normally associated with the writing of a book. Oh, and the fromage frais thing will set you back a cool $795 – that’s a lot to shell out to find out if it’s machine-produced rubbish.
Parker’s other books have similarly ambitious price-tags. “The 2007-2012 Outlook for Lemon-Flavoured Bottled Water in Japan”, comes in at $495, and “The 2007 Import and Export Market for Household Refrigerators in Czech Republic at $112”. Such prices are either an expression of extreme confidence in the product or a piss-take.
Parker also had another fromage-frais related book in the competition, “The 2007-2012 World Outlook for Fruity Fromage Frais”, which runs to an extremely modest 186 pages and which Amazon UK will be happy to sell to you for a mere £958.98 (or £917.17 second-hand). Good luck with that…
Interestingly, this gizmo seems to be pretty undiscriminating in its trawling of the Internet for info (and is it me, but doesn’t that represent a massive, multiple breach of copyright?), as there’s no such thing as a 60mg container of fromage frais – not outside a laboratory, anyway, and maybe not even there – the smallest I can find is 42g. If the 200,000, and more, titles are as useful and meaningful as this one, it would seem to be a machine for the dissemination of pointless drivel.
I think it’s a deeply flawed concept – not that Parker makes any secret of the machine’s use, but that doesn’t make it right – because the work is not his. Though I suppose he programmes the thing, and takes the pages from the printer for the draft. Then there’s the prices – if an academic – or even a lesser mortal – had sweated blood putting these books together, then you might, given the subject matter, think yourself lucky to get a price in the higher reaches of double figures, but machines don’t sweat blood, and these prices are absurd, though the fact that Amazon has two used copies for sale bears out PT Barnum’s dictum…**
If I did what Parker does, for my blog – which is copying my content from the Internet, capitalising upon the work of others and breaching their copyright (I mean, come on – how can this not be breach of copyright?) – WordPress would shut me down without a second thought. And so they should.
I go to great lengths to ensure that everything I write is original. OK, I write about things I’ve read, or heard, but the words – the work – is all mine. If I do use anything from another source, it is clearly indicated, the source acknowledged and linked to, if appropriate. I wonder if Parker’s books actually acknowledge their sources, and can a machine be programmed to figure out who wrote a webpage – it’s not always easy to find out? Anyone want to send me a review copy of one of them so I can see for myself? I’m serious about that, by the way. (Fat chance of getting one, though.)
** You may be tempted to tell me that Wikipedia says Barnum never said “There’s a sucker born every minute!”. I’ve seen it, and it’s unverified. And even if he didn’t, he should have.