Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How Not to Title a Book (but also, How to Sell Me a Book I Don't Want)

How Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free LifeHow Not to Read: Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life by Dan Wilbur

I have not read this yet, but I want to tell you how I came to own it.  In hard copy.  New.

The Brooklyn Book Festival was this past Sunday, and I had a blast browsing dozens of booths.  Bookstores, publishers, reading groups, authors, and literary merchandisers were hawking their wares.
Tents, tents, and more tents... and a beautiful day!

In one of the bookstore tents, I picked up this book.  The eager guy behind the counter exclaimed, "That's my book! You should buy it!"

I read the subtitle, Harnessing the Power of a Literature-Free Life, and got flustered.  "Uh, I'm sorry, I don't really like the title.  It just, ah, makes me not want to read the book."

He looked confused, then slightly hurt, but recovered his eagerness. "It's okay!   It's not a serious title, it's a joke.  But I promise I'll work harder on the next book title!  And if you buy this one I'll sign it, and apologize in writing!"

I ask you, what choice did I have?   I felt terrible for insulting his title, and he was being really nice. On closer inspection, I realized the book is an expansion of his website, where he "improves" book titles, which seems fairly entertaining. For example:

The renaming of Gone Girl.
The re-titled Gone Girl, to which I gave five stars).
This reader-submitted title is spot-on.  
Anyway, I caved. I paid $16 for a slim paperback. I almost never pay more than $10 for a book anymore, and then only on the rare occasions when a book isn't available for my Kindle through the BPL.

In other words:  Trick me into insulting your book, and I will buy it because I feel bad. I am, apparently, that much of a pushover.

Nevertheless, I stand by my original feeling.  If you write a book meant to appeal to readers (because who else is going to appreciate book-related jokes?), don't pick a title that turns readers off.   Readers do not want a guide to a literature-free life.  I understand (now) that it was meant to be funny/satirical, but there are so many people who don't read -- and don't want to read -- that I could easily believe the title is serious.  I mean, people disagree over whether The Colbert Report is supposed to be satire!  And remember that Congressman who thought The Onion was reporting real news?  To paraphrase an old quotation, satire just doesn't stand a chance against reality anymore.
Nevertheless, I'll end with this excellent bit of satire, compliments of the talented reader/commenter Mikey.