Title This Article!
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 30, 2006
(This post isn't about revitalization, but what's the point of a blog if you can't riff occasionally on quirks that don't fit anywhere else? I promise it won't become a habit.)
I was recently reading an article in Slate on falling birthrates. When it mentioned Philip Longman's new book Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What To Do About It, I had an epiphany of sorts concerning the book's title, which followed what I suddenly realized is a painfully predictable non-fiction template.
The pattern is simple but almost infinitely variable. Start with a memetic catch-phrase that identifies a problem, and follow it up with a colon. Then finish it off with a phrase promising to explain how the problem happened and "what to do about it."
A quick search on Amazon turned up the following punctilious titles:
- The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It, by Marcia Angell
- Innovation and Its Discontents: How Our Broken Patent System is Endangering Innovation and Progress, and What to Do About It, by Adam B. Jaffe and Josh Lerner, who must be thankful that our patent system doesn't extend to algorithms for titling books
- Endangered Minds: Why Children Don't Think And What We Can Do About It, by Jane M. Healy
- "Could Do Better": Why Children Underachieve and What to Do About It, by Harvey P. Mandel and Sander I. Marcus
- Sugars and Flours: How They Make Us Crazy, Sick, and Fat and What to Do About It, by Joan Ifland
- A Job To Die For: Why So Many Americans are Killed, Injured or Made Ill at Work and What to Do About It, by Lisa Cullen
- Flawless: Your Top 10 Character Defects and What to Do About Them, by Louis A. Tartaglia
- Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps: How We're Different and What to Do About It, by Allan and Barbara Pease
- PMS: Solving the Puzzle - Sixteen Causes of Premenstrual Syndrome and What to Do About It, by Linaya Hahn
- Mom, I Hate You! Children's Provocative Communication: What It Means and What to Do About It, by Don Fleming and Mark Ritts
- Negative Criticism: Its Swath of Destruction and What to Do About It, by Sidney B. Simon
I also found the following books, which deviate slightly from the mold while still hewing it its principles:
- The Classified Man: Twenty-Two Types of Men (And What to Do About Them), by Susannah M. Hoffman, who sought originality through the clever introduction of parentheses
- Derailed: What Went Wrong and What to Do About America's Passenger Trains, by Joseph Vranich, who mixed up the "how" and "what" portions of his title
- Why Customers Don't Do What You Want Them to Do and What to Do About It, by Ferdinand F. Fournies, who dispensed with the memetic catch-phrase
- Still Single: Are You Making Yourself Unavailable When You Don't Want to Be? What to Do About It!, by Casey Maxwell Clair and Jeffrey W. Whiting, who introduced punctuation and broke the "what" phrase into a new sentence
- Why Men Cheat and What to Do About It: A Practical Handbook, by Paul Blanchard, who cheated a little with his title format
So as a corrective measure, I'm going to write a book to help prevent more of the same. I'll call it Stupid Book Titles: How The Publishing Industry Lost Its Imagination and What To Do About It.
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