"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Friday, July 23, 2010

Read Me Or Die: Book Titles That Smack Your Mama

There's something to be said for finding a good book simply by walking around a bookstore.

In the library world we call it "serendipitous browsing."

Finding a good book in a sea of books is a lot like dating. This fretful process can be recreated using new technologies (Kindle is not too unlike match.com in my mind), but there is something magical when it happens in person. Needless to say, I spend hours in bookstores. I met my husband in a bookstore. But as much as I fetishize books, even I admit that after a while the shelves just blur into one mass of gaudy volumes squeezed together like crayons in a box.

It takes something truly special to stand out in the crowd. Here are some books I wanted to purchase based on the titles alone:

1) The History of White People, by Nell Irvin Painter

This title immediately jumps down the throat. Either you think 'this is going to be the most infuriating anti-caucasian book in the world,' or you snicker and say, 'well I can tell you how that goes in ten words or less.' Either way, the book gets picked up.

2) I am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Delphine Minoui

Do I even need to say anything about this book? The title says it all. No semi-colon explanation needed.

3) Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Tips to Creativity, by Hugh Macleod

Plays on the neuroses of the creative person by reaffirming we are all God's special snowflakes (and we are). The huge endorsement by viral blogger Seth Godin doesn't hurt either.

4) The Ninja Handbook: This Book Looks Forward to Killing You Soon, by Douglas Sarine

Humor is always welcome. I wouldn't go near a book about ninjas if the title didn't make me laugh (just a little). I most likely won't buy it, but I WILL pass it along to at least 4 other dork ninja-enthusiasts who might.

5) Choke, by Chuck Palahniuk

Sometimes simple is best. Sometimes one word says more than an entire sentence.

6) My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares

This just sounds pretty. It appeals to my sense of aesthetics and sounds almost poetic. Imagine my shock when I discover that it was written by the same author who penned The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Oh well.

7) Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange

It's Jane Austen revisited with blood-sucking vamps. Who doesn't think that's cool? At least for the first 50 pages. This sounds like literary Splenda--appealing to my dignified sense of English major nerdiness AND my adolescent desire for carnage. WIN!

8) A Field Guide for Burying Your Parents, by Liza Palmer

I know nothing about this book, other than I buried my father last August, and that alone prompted me to at least consider it. Pulling something terrible and universal into the title is a guaranteed way to make people stop and look at the very least.

9) The Wild Things, by Dave Eggers

Again, like the Mr. Darcy book listed above, it appeals to the consumers pre-packaged experience with some other well-known and beloved work/author. In this case it is the children's book Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. And bonus points for this book because the volume was covered in mock animal hair (no joke).

10) A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, by Dave Eggers

Good 'ol Dave, he is absolutely brilliant. Bringing back the art of the cover design, kitschy titles, and sharp sardonic writing to boot. The crazy thing is, the title is as hysterically arrogant as it is true. I want to take a seminar by this man. I want to send him fan letters and unfinished manuscripts and make him my mentor. But I'll settle for pre-ordering his next work on Amazon.

But cover design may even be more important than title, particularly for new and unestablished writers.

I cannot tell you how many of my former students (first-wave Twilight lovers) told me that they had picked up the Stephenie Meyer books simply because the covers were so gorgeous, and looked different than everything else in that section. If you venture into the teen/YA section now, there has been an explosion of books adopting the black/red graphics that the Meyer books made en vogue.

Of course publishers and booksellers know this; but how much more then must new authors fight for books that both look AND read like New York Times bestsellers? It's nothing new. Dating is full of pigeons and peacocks, and the bookstore is no different.

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