In Praise of Catchy Book Subtitles

More books are being embellished with catchy subtitles – here’s some more suggestions.

Because books compete for readers’ attention with many less demanding entertainments – from film and TV to streaming video and interactive games – publishers must give customers reasons for reading this book now rather than choosing a different leisure activity.

So it’s no surprise that more and more books embellish their titles with catchy subtitles that help convince readers the book has what they want … or, in desperation, mislead readers into thinking they’ll find something barely present.

Sometimes this means an extra word or two; but increasingly books come burdened with lengthy subtitles containing multiple subparts.


book subtitlesConsider these recent tomes:

Luke Dittrich, Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets

Alexander Elder, The New Sell and Sell Short: How To Take Profits, Cut Losses, and Benefit From Price Declines

Adrian Goldsworthy, Pax Romana: War, Peace and Conquest in the Roman World

Nathaniel Philbrick’s last book, Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution; and his latest, Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution; and


What’s good for these new geese should be good for the old ganders – in other words, maybe it’s time to promote flagging sales of respected classics by appending multipart subtitles in order to attract new readers. So, publishing industry, please consider the following suggestions for adopting this modern style to some old favorites.

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice: A Tale of Condescension, Tension, and Ascension to a Pension

Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage: A Novel of War, Carnage and Prudent Running Away

Genesis: How G-d destroyed Sodom, Salinized Lot’s Wife, and Smote Onan, the Pentateuch’s Infamous Masturbator

Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter: A Story of Sin, Scaffolds and Colonial Bling

H.G. Wells, War of the Worlds: A Tale of Invasion, Survival, and (Spoiler Alert) The Common Col

C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: A Parable About a Lion, a Witch and a Wardrobe

Herman Melville, Moby Dick: A Novel About Fish, Mammals That Look Like Fish, and the People Who Hunt Them Obsessively; Also Blubber

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath: A Title That Reminds Us of the Anger Latent in a Bunch of Thompson Seedless

The Three Little Pigs: A Tale of Huffing, Puffing, and the Use of Forceful Exhalation to Demolish Porcine Dwellings

George Orwell, 1984*


*No subtitle necessary; Donald Trump’s election has caused a 9,500% spike in sales.

Howard Zaharoff