Al Gore and subtitle fatigue

(Originally written for the EPFL campus newspaper, the Flash).

Al Gore’s new book, The Assault on Reason, is out: I’m buying it immediately if only to vote with my wallet for a non-fiction book without a colon and a subtitle. Last week’s New York Times Book Review was riddled with colons like a kid with the chicken pox. The Atomic Bazaar: the Rise of the Nuclear Poor; or how about Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years; or Reclaiming History: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy; and perhaps the best, Ralph Ellison: A biography. What, it’s not Ralph Ellison:the Cookbook?

Am I the only one with colon fatigue? It was such a relief to see the jacket of Al Gore’s book that if he runs for president he’s got my vote on that count alone. But it can’t have been easy to go against the tide. Imagine the argument with his editor:

Hey Al, we’re good to go but there’s still this thing — the title needs some work.


Nothing major, just, well, it needs more depth. It needs impact. It’s gotta really grab the reader’s attention. We can keep the lead-in, but how about The Assault on Reason: America’s Intellectual Decline, or The Assault on Reason: the Bush Administration and the Chimera of Participatory Democracy. It’s got more oomph, see?

Don’t think so, Bob.

Al, think about it. The title is crucial. We could go with Running on Empty: American Politics in The Era of Ignorance, or Anything Goes: American Politics and the Rise of the Expert Opinion or even hey, get this, I like it — All Reasoned Out: the Decline and Fall of American Intelligence. Has a sort of apocalyptic feel, huh? I’m tellin’ you, that’s what sells books these days.

No, Bob. Don’t think so.

Al, you’re gonna have to trust me on this. You have to work the title. It’s not like film, you got away with it there, but this — it’s totally insane, the market is tough like you cannot believe.

Listen, Bob, I feel strongly about this. I’ve stopped caring what the polls say. Leave it.

Look, I’ll have my people come up with some possibilities. We’ll schedule a meeting, say, tomorrow 1 pm, pick out a winner.


Al, what can I do? I have my boss breathing down my neck, this thing is so ready to go, the timing is perfect! Let’s just get it out there, don’t sweat it, I’m telling you, a title with impact will make all the difference. Help me out here!

No, Bob. Look, I can go to Random House. They’re still interested. Hell, I’ll publish the thing myself. On recycled paper! Damn! Why didn’t I think of that before?

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