Have you noticed the plethora of one-word nonfiction book titles lately?
The following titles are taken from the top 60 best sellers on Amazon’s list of business books. That means nearly 1/4 of the top books have one word titles. Yes, they have subtitles, but other than that, I’m being a purist, and didn’t even count titles with ‘the.’ (Like ‘The Secret,’ which has no business being on a business list anyway).
Most naturally fall into categories of opposites. For every one word title, there is an equal and opposite title, seems to be the rule.
I can’t imagine we had this many one-word titles in recent history, and I suspect it means something.
The Curmudgeonly Interpretation: The Decline of Rome, redux
There is an obvious interpretation which appeals to modern Luddites and curmudgeons: "It’s the Twitter that done it!" You can write the rest of that post yourself.
Variations on that theme include, "Anybody who thinks he has 5000 friends doesn’t have any," and "Kids these days don’t even know their times tables."
There is another view, of course, and that is simply that the meanings of words change over time. In Jorge Luis Borges classic short story “Pierre Menard, autor del Quixote,” , the author Menard resolves to write the greatest novel of all time. Which, as everyone knows, is Don Quixote. So after great labor, Menard triumphantly succeeds in writing Don Quixote, in its original Spanish.
But of course, the meaning of the words had changed over the centuries, hence it turned out that Menard had not written the greatest novel of all time after all; whereupon he died forlorn of disappointment (as I recall).
An awful lot of wasted energy gets expended on debates over the changing meanings of words like ‘friend.’ Too bad we don’t have the ability to just say ‘friend-like-it-meant-in-1957’ and ‘friend-like-it-meant-when-it-became-a-verb.’
Not Better or Worse, Just Different Books
Let’s just stipulate that there were some good things about the 1957-model Friend that were lost in the transition to the New Model. But the reverse is true too. With 2000 friends, you can find someone up at any hour of the night, for example. That’s non-trivial, as far as I’m concerned.
I just spent 3 hours of a 5-hour flight reading a really good old-style book called Crisis of Character: Building Corporate Reputation in the Age of Skepticism, by Peter Firestein. Not a one-word title. Because, in this case, it’s not a one-word book. (Excellent book, by the way).
Then again, I’m a Malcolm Gladwell fan; I’m not about to join the backlash against him. Blink? Outlier? Yeah, I get it, and I get it quick. Maybe I don’t have to read the whole book to ‘get it,’ but I always do anyway, because I love reading Malcolm.
Yes, I think one-word titles are different, and new, and here to stay. And I’m sure it is all part of “the twitter,” we all have A.D.D. now, and so on. And some of that’s good, and some of that’s bad.
What it is, it’s just different.
My favorite old Greek philosopher (maybe the only one I remember) Heraclitus said, “you cannot step in the same river twice.” True dat, Heracky!