Robert McCrum of the The Guardian recently called for a cease and desist on the use of subtitles in books. He cited a newly published biography of William Golding, which includes the admittedly odd and somewhat limiting subtitle: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies.
I’d hate to think that a biography of me would be subtitled: The man who wrote Something Missing. Sure, it’s true, but doesn’t this subtitle imply that I didn’t do much else?
McCrum also cites the use of forgotten subtitles in classics like MOBY DICK (The Whale) and ANIMAL FARM (A Fairy Tale), as well as the lengthy subtitle in Christine Hardyment’s MALLORY: The Birth, Life and Acts of King Arthur, of his noble Knights of the Round Table, their marvellous Enquests and Adventures; th'achieving of the Sangreal, and in the end the dolorous Death and Departing out of the World of them All.
To be honest, I kind of like Hardyment’s subtitle. The length alone is funny as hell, and I think I’d make a game of trying to remember it. Give out prizes at readings to anyone who could recite the subtitle from memory.
McCrum’s argument is that the subtitle is often a tool used by authors and publishers who feel the need to justify and further explain the book. He believes that the subtitle is a sign of weakness, a lack of faith, an unwillingness to allow the book to stand on its own merit. Just in case a potential reader doesn’t know that William Golding wrote LORD OF THE FLIES or that Moby Dick is a whale, the subtitle is intended to help.
But as McCrum so aptly states, if you didn’t know that William Golding was the author of LORD OF THE FLIES before you saw the subtitle, it is unlikely that the subtitle would convince you to purchase the book.
You’re either a William Golding fan who wants to read the man’s biography or you’re not. The subtitle won’t make you into a Golding fanboy.
I agree with McCrum, but I thought that adding to subtitles to books might be amusing. For example, if I were to add a subtitle to SOMETHING MISSING, what might it be?
SOMETHING MISSING: The story of a thief named Martin.
SOMETHING MISSING: The missing something is a double entendre, referencing both the items that Martin steals as well as the things missing from his own life.
SOMETHING MISSING: Not quite a mystery, not quite suspense, and not quite humor. A frustratingly indescribable combination of all three.
Any other ideas? Or any subtitles that you’d like to add to other books, for amusement’s sake or otherwise?