February 19, 2005

Subtitles.

Ben Yagoda has a nice essay (in tomorrow's NYT Book Review) about the overuse of subtitles in book titling:
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.

The problem with respect to books is nothing compared to law review articles. One rarely sees a title without a subtitle. But the truth is, those subtitles really are helpful when you look for articles through LEXIS and get a long list of titles. A snappy title is nice, but it's almost never nice enough to make me curious enough to take the time to click on the link to see what you've written. You've got to have that colon followed by something that makes it plain what you're writing about.

A sidenote: I always use LEXIS to find law review articles when I'm doing legal scholarship. Nevertheless, I receive many reprints of law review articles in the mail. Reprint-sending is such a wasteful and now totally unnecessary practice. Could we all please just stop? Think of the trees! Think of the mail truck exhaust! Lawprofs: if there were a national "do not send reprints" list, would you not put your name on it?

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