Sunday, February 20, 2005

This and That

Ben Yagoda bemoans the increase not only in subtitles but in the length of subtitles

Elongated voguish subtitles are harmless enough, but I miss the time, not so long ago, when it was possible for a book to go out into the world with only a strong title followed by a few hundred pages of outstanding writing. That was certainly the tack taken by most mid-20th-century nonfiction classics: ''Hiroshima,'' ''All the President's Men,'' ''The American Way of Death,'' ''The White Album,'' ''Elvis,'' ''Dispatches,'' ''Joe Gould's Secret,'' ''The Executioner's Song,'' Lillian Ross's ''Picture,'' ''The Right Stuff,'' ''The Soul of a New Machine,'' ''The Kingdom and the Power,'' just about everything ever written by John McPhee, and a book that, were it published today, would tote a subtitle like ''The True Story of How the Ivy League Elite Developed Strange Ideas About the World, Got America Into Vietnam, and Messed Up Foreign Policy for a Long Time.'' Back in 1972, David Halberstam called it ''The Best and the Brightest'' and then shut up.
I wonder, would it comfort him to know that as a reader I rarely pay attention to the subtitle? How sad is this? The NY Times reviews a new book by moral philosopher Harry G. Frankfurt called On Bullshit but the Times won't even print the whole title, censoring itself to "On Bull----." They even make a little fun at themselves for censoring it. Who are they sparing here? I think it utterly ridiculous and an example of the bullshit Frankfurt is writing about. A floating bookstore