Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Musings on a Lone Leaf Day

It is a gusty, chillier-than-usual November afternoon in the bookshop and I feel a little restless as I walk about the shop trying to rev up my circulatory system. Sam the cat is no help curled up in my box of packing peanuts and bubble wrap strips. He should be on my lap warming me up. But instead, I am as the lone leaf shown above on the maple tree outside the shop, flapping aimlessly about.

I could dust some shelves, straighten some paperbacks, water the plants, but no, that's more ennui for the pile. Instead, I found myself drawn to one out of a pile of books waiting to be shelved. The title is just too good: "I Been in Sorrow's Kitchen and Licked out all the Pots" (by Susan Straight, NY: Hyperion, 1992). Now, that is an evocative title! But I imagine it gave the publisher and book designer apoplexy being so wordy.

"How am I supposed to get book reviews for a three-foot-long book title?",
"How do I pack this title onto the spine?"
"Even the acronym is long! (IBISKALOATP)"

That got me thinking about other great, wordy book titles:

Been Down So Long, It Looks Like Up to Me (Richard Farina)
For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is 'Enuf (Ntozake Shange)
Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (Alan Gurganus)
From The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (E.L. Konigsburg)

All of them very evocative and I read and loved the last two books, so I am partial to these titles. However, apparently publisher wisdom decrees that book titles should be kept small, even though this study by offers a disparate analysis.

This web site informs us all that the world record holder (at 1,433 characters) is an Italian novel (I think it's a novel, I dozed off after trying to read the garbled web-translation of this monstrous title) but here's an article from Denmark which assigns the book title verbosity championship to us Americans. Be sure to read the comments under that article, including the snappy one by Jamie considering inappropriate punctuation of overlong titles. And Foreword Magazine had an article earlier this year considering the trend towards lengthening book titles.

From cataloguing many a book in 12+ years as a used and rare bookseller I can attest to a vogue in wordy book titles during the 19th century, in some cases exhausting the character limits of my software and necessitating a "to be continued below" disclaimer in my book description. But I maintain a fondness for the verbose book titles above. Back to licking the pots....


Britt-Arnhild said...

In my next life I want to run a used book store :-) Meanwhile I can come here.

Annette B said...

One of my favorite wordy title? Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodles, a Husband and a Bus with a will of its own. by Doreen Orion. I love this book and recommend it all the time (although usually for its witty, endearing content and not its title, but I love that too).

Chris Lowenstein said...

I am sorry, i HAVE to do this - it’s one of the rules

You have been tagged.

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