Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Subtitle That Changed The World

Ah, the poor subtitle. Even its name implies second class.

I’ve been thinking about subtitles as I’ve typed them up for my reviews (check out the subtitle for the last book I reviewed, it’s 23 words long).

The title is big and splashy on a book jacket. The title is supposedly born from divine inspiration. Meanwhile, the subtitle is placed somewhere below the title, in small mouse dropping font. It’s the subtitle that tells you what the book is about. The subtitle is the title’s right-hand man, you know, the one doing all the work with little fanfare.

But lately I’ve noticed that subtitles are doing it for themselves. I decided to read Fifth Ave, 5 AM because of its subtitle: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman. It was the ‘dawn of the modern woman’ part that hooked me. It sounded so grand. So important. Something I had to read. While I enjoyed the book immensely, I don’t know whether you can call the light 256 page read really about the dawn of the modern woman.

These subtitles sometimes read like headlines snatched off a magazine cover. Like the ones that read, The One Thing Your Man Wants To Hear From You Every Night . . . and you furiously flip to page 48 where its revealed in a boring article with pictures of a generic couple that that your man just wants to hear that you care about him.

Bold statements seem to be the mark of a good subtitle. For example, Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century.

Marriage of the century? Wow. A century is a really long time.

I was looking at the subtitles of non-fiction best sellers and noticed a few words kept popping up in subtitles: hidden, inside, story, everything… For example, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything and One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (subtitle for Eat, Pray, Love).

There are subtitles that just try to be cheeky (Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook) and ones that try to explain everything about the book (The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun). Whoa that was a mouth-full.

And then sometimes, the title is self-explanatory and the book doesn’t need a subtitle at all, like, Justin Halpern’s Sh*t My Dad Says. Well said.

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