Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Totebaggery: A Novel Idea

Check out Ben Yagoda's essay on the totebaggery of long-winded book subtitles!

His very non-TB piece recalls a verrrry totebaggy trade paperback trope: the use of the name of an actual famous person as a modifier to confer some sense of extra-arty-ness to your novel. For example:

Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Flaubert's Parrot
Foucault's Pendulum
Paris Hilton's Lemon Zester

But let's not forget an even LAMER trope: appending "-- A Novel" to, of all things, your novel. It would stand to reason that if you have to TELL me that your project is " -- A Novel," it's probably not a very good one. While you are at it Mr. Writer Man, why don't you make some choo-choo train sounds while you guide that spoonful of deep-fried earwigs to my mouth?

Here are some titles that appear when searching for "a novel" on Amazon:

Gilead: A Novel
The Christmas Thief: A Novel
Housekeeping: A Novel
Lucia Lucia: A Novel
The Ha-Ha: A Novel
Middlesex: A Novel
The Wife: A Novel
Lord of Seduction: A Novel
Fight Club: A Novel
Conviction: A Novel
The Diet: A Novel
Prep: A Novel
The Birth of Venus: A Novel
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress: A Novel

[Thank God for that last subtitle, as up to now I had only been familiar with the "Balzac And the Little Chinese Seamstress" muffler repair franchise.]


At February 24, 2005 at 7:01 AM, Blogger Andrew Purvis said...

OK, I will grant that some titles could use a little work, but Foucault's Pendulum? How is that using "the name of an actual famous person as a modifier to confer some sense of extra-arty-ness"?

It refers not only to a simple device that demonstrates the earth's rotation on its axis, but also to a key element of the novel, without which the story would not work.

I would further like a show of hands from everyone who actually knows physicist Jean Bernard Leon Foucault by name.

At February 24, 2005 at 7:24 AM, Blogger Lillet Langtry said...

Well, Audrey Hepburn does indeed have a spectaculat neck, so I guess I'm way off base.

Hey, we have one Rothko Messenger bag remaining -- you want it? ;)


At February 24, 2005 at 8:11 AM, Blogger Andrew Purvis said...

What the hell is a Rothko Messenger bag? Anyway, I use a ten-year-old backpack that could probably stand a little repair. I just don't feel like sending it over to your coast for a few weeks.

As for Audrey Hepburn's neck (the body part, not the book), yes. And I am pleased we are not talking about Katherine Hepburn's neck, as it just doesn't come up to quite the same standards.

At March 6, 2005 at 9:31 AM, Blogger Richard Mason said...

Occasionally "A Novel" is a useful subtitle, though more often not.

The Diet: A Novel. Fair enough. (Tells you that it's not a diet book.)

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing: Fiction. Fair enough.

The Christmas Thief: A Novel. Stupid.


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