Peruse the bestseller shelf in any airport bookstore and you'll notice a trend. I call it “Monosyllabic Title Syndrome”.
I think the trend may have started with Malcolm Gladwell's second book, Blink. Right after that one hit the shelves - and sold like hotcakes - everyone wanted in on the act. So now, our nation's bookstore shelves are crammed with punchy, single syllable titles like Sway, Free, Dread and Rigged.
Cute and catchy as these cryptic titles may be, they do require some 'splainin'. Quite a bit of it, in fact. So every monosyllabic title is immediately followed by a really long, convoluted subtitle. To wit:
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior Switch: How to ChangeThings When Change is HardFree: The Future of a Radical Price (huh?)
Dread: How Fear and Fantasy Have Fueled Epidemics from the Black Death to the Avian Flu
Rigged: The True Story of an Ivy League Kid Who Changed the World of Oil, from Wall Street to Dubai
The latest book by political pundit Dick Morris features the Mother of All Subheads:
Fleeced: How Barack Obama, Media Mockery of Terrorist Threats, Liberals Who Want to Kill Talk Radio, the Self-Serving Congress, Companies That Help Iran and Washington Lobbyists for Foreign Governments are Scamming Us...And What to Do About It.
(Personally, I would have titled this Sleaze: How an Opportunistic, Toe-Sucking Political Hack Shamelessly Exploited America's Socialist Fears and Tried to Destroy the Obama Administration Before They'd Even Been in Office for Barely Five Minutes with Two Hastily Published Propagandist Books Sporting Ridiculously Long Titles).
Somewhere along the line, it seems publishers decided that the secret to a best-selling book was a one word - and preferably one syllable - title. After all, Americans are lazy, not terribly literate and pressed for time. We like our literature lite and our titles bite-sized. Why tax our pea brains with all those pesky, extra syllables?
A short, catchy title can turn virtually any subject matter into an irresistible read. The next time I'm in Border's, I fully expect to see:
Fridge: How Coolants and Condensers Transformed Food Preservation in America
Steep: The Future of Tea in a Coffee-Addicted Society
Frizz: How Bad Hair Products Have Failed American Women
Mute: Why the Remote Control Matters More Than Ever in an Increasingly Loud, Obnoxious World
Grate: The Irresistible Lure of Parmesan Cheese
Drill: The Shocking, Untold Story of Dentistry
Of course, the monosyllabic trend is not limited to books. TV producers have also jumped on the bandwagon, giving us Weeds, Lost, Monk, Scrubs, Bones, Wrecked, Stoked and Hung.
The formula for success appears to be: Quirky Character + Edgy, Slightly Outrageous Subject Matter + One Syllable Title = Mega Hit.
By today's rules, Jane Austen would have written Pride minus the Prejudice. There would be no Catcher in the Rye... only Rye. Tolstoy's publisher would have made him choose between either War OR Peace ("Leo, baby, trust me on this...it sounds edgy...it's fresh...and it will climb to the top of Amazon's Bestseller List in a week..."). And I hate to even think what would have happened to Moby Dick.
Syllables. They're just like, so Twentieth Century.
- San Francisco, California, USA
- January 30
- I'm an Advertising Copywriter who needs to rant now and then. Ok, maybe not just now and then. Maybe all the time. Lately, I simply don't understand - and can rarely relate to - this wierd world we live in.
Please don't call me a "crank". I'm more like a sorely disillusioned, nice person.
When I'm not writing, you'll find me teaching dance and listening to cheerful, escapist music from the 1920s and '30s (you can hear my radio show, "Happy Days" every Sunday, 12-1:00 PM PST @ kwmr.org).
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