Taking the Sub-Way

By Kathryn Comment

In case you missed it, last Sunday’s NYTBR featured Ben Yagoda—author of About Town: The New Yorker and the World It Made and The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing—writing on his specialty: nonfiction books and their mandatory subtitles.

[Subtitles] are a sort of lottery ticket in the economics of nonfiction book marketing. Publishers throw all kinds of elements in them—vogue words and phrases, features of the book the title didn’t get around to mentioning, talismanic locutions like ”An American Life”—in the (almost always) vain hope that something will pay off.

What’s changed recently is that the subtitle has been asked to bear ever more weight. So many books are published nowadays that each one needs to proclaim its own merits; and with advertising budgets shaved away to nothing, the task falls to subtitles. As a result, they have become ubiquitous, hyperbolic and long.

On that note: while browsing today’s book releases, GC discovered her newest favorite-subtitle-of-all-time:
Other intriguing titles by “Ray Comfort” include Hell’s Best Kept Secret (“Satan does not want you to read this book!”) and God Doesn’t Believe in Atheists: Proof That the Atheist Doesn’t Exist (“…Nowhere to run. But to the cross.”).