At Least Until Publication of “Beavis and Mimesis,” My Memoir of the 1990s

by Scott McLemee on November 24, 2007

It can’t have been easy to pick finalists for the Atlanta Journal- Constitution‘s contest for World’s Worst Book Title — not with candidates such as Letting It Go: A History of American Incontinence and Everything You’ll Need to Remember About Alzheimer’s.

I’m not sure how the contest was run, or if it was fair. A lot of times with these things it’s all about who you know.

Still, the results are in, and AJC has announced that the winner is Cooking with Pooh. This title is for real. But I’m sure readers can come up with worse titles than that, just as real.

(hat tip: Michael Merschel)

{ 1 trackback }

Sunday Bookchat « The Opinion Mill
11.25.07 at 12:44 pm



mollymooly 11.24.07 at 7:14 pm

Sometimes a series of book with a common title template can produce an instance with an infelicitous collocation.

The craft series “How to make it in..” [..wood, paper, clay, plastic, etc] got some disappointed mail-order buyers for “How to make it in leather” and “How to make it in PVC”.

Similarly “Your friend the dog” [cat, canary] work better than “Your friend the newt” or “Your friend the gerbil”.


MattF 11.24.07 at 7:29 pm

As mollymooly says– I saw ‘Astrology for Dummies’ in the bookstore the other day…


CJColucci 11.24.07 at 8:28 pm

The titles of law-related books often sound, or can be made to sound, like how-to guides for doing bad things. One late night in my old firm, I picked up a label maker and added subtitles to books in the library. My favorite was a then well-regarded book entitled “Oppression of Minority Shareholders.” (The author was against it.) I stuck “A Practical Guide” on the spine underneath. Well, it seemed funny at 4:00 in the morning.


dsquared 11.24.07 at 9:05 pm

I actually own a copy of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Professional Wrestling”.


Gareth Wilson 11.24.07 at 11:42 pm

I like Parenting for Dummies, myself.


Maruka 11.25.07 at 12:03 am

In a coffee shop on Lamma Island, near Hong Kong, I found a small book titled “Dull Postcards”, containing exactly that, without any text or commentary. Unfortunately this curiosity was not for sale.


JP Stormcrow 11.25.07 at 12:36 am

From a similar exercise I remembered How to Avoid Huge Ships. And by mentioning Butt Rot and Bottom Gas: A Glossary of Tragically Misunderstood Words in this thread, I think it becomes a candidate for a list of Tragically Misunderstood Book Titles. The same cannot be said for what appears to be a whole genre of “bottom” books per the Amazon tease list. Two examples: Once Upon a Knee and Mr. Right Hand.


Joe 11.25.07 at 1:24 am

I once saw someone on the NYC subway reading “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Enhancing Self-Esteem” (ch. 1: “Stop thinking of yourself as a complete idiot…”)


bad Jim 11.25.07 at 9:08 am

I piloted my moribund dad’s new boat between Marina del Rey and Dana Point, threading the heavily trafficked shipping lanes of Los Angeles. Avoiding big ships was a quickly learned survival skill (steer straight towards them, watch the wake).

J.K. Galbraith had a book about his forebears whose title proved problematic. “The non-potable Scotch” flopped in the U.K., and “Built to Last” didn’t do much better in the U.S.

“The Psychopathology of Everyday Things” was Donald Norman’s original title for his essential book on design, but way too clever for any market. Likewise, perhaps, some art band’s album title, “Civilization and its discotheques.”

Whenever I think I’m not the last Freudian, I kick myself into recollecting my visit to Michelangelo’s Moses, next door to the Colosseum, alone except for my statuesque* travelling companion and a Dutch family.

* I had her pose on one of the many vacant pedestals nearby. She fit.


MR. Bill 11.25.07 at 11:10 am

Markula at 6:ari
While I ran a small bookstore, one of our titles (from Phaidon press, I seem to remember) was Boring Postcards. A graphic designer I know raved about it.
And some of them were intellectual puzzles: this book had the copy from the card on the back of the page. We would try to guess why there was an helicopter shot of an interstate interchange..AH, it’s the new location for a spark plug factory…


Tim Worstall 11.25.07 at 11:31 am


Shalom Beck 11.25.07 at 12:46 pm

My favorites are from my math days

Two by Jacobson
Basic Algebra II
Basic Algebra I

and that old chestnut
Real Simple Groups


djr 11.25.07 at 8:08 pm

A friend who worked in a bookshop was once asked for “Accounting for Dummies”.

After checking the computer… “I’m sorry sir. There’s no accounting for dummies.”


Martin G. 11.25.07 at 8:53 pm

I like “A Mind of its Own: a cultural history of the penis.” I think it’s actually a pretty good title, but it does have a dick joke in it, which is a plus in any book.


Walt 11.26.07 at 5:13 am

I was actually patronized in college for carrying around a copy of Jacobson’s Basic Algebra I. People kept saying to me “Oh, I had that in high school. And you’re a math major?” I tried acting sheepishly embarrassed.


a very public sociologist 11.26.07 at 12:44 pm

Not so much a book title, but will a chapter title from Harpal Brar’s unintentionally hilarious ‘Trotskyism or Leninsm’ do?

‘Why did the Trotskyist Opposition in the Soviet Union Commit the Kind of Mistakes that it Did Commit in Regard to the Chinese Revolution?’

Why use one word when seven will do?

How about this as a sub-heading?

‘The Trotskyist recipe for disaster through “discord” with the peasantry versus the Leninist formula for building socialism through a “stable alliance” with the main mass of the peasantry’


Scott McLemee 11.26.07 at 5:32 pm

Conversely, the Proletarian Unity League’s book about the state of the American “new communist” novement in the 1970s always struck me as kind of brilliant: Two, Three, Many Parties of a New Type. Much of it is available here.


JP Stormcrow 11.26.07 at 5:59 pm

Not really a strange title, and their might be an innocent explanation, but was amused to come across Festschrift for Lyndon Larouche: A Celebration on the Occasion of His 70th Birthday September 8, 1992 – author: Lyndon LaRouche. He also received one on his 80th birthday.

Actually, I think a mere listing of the titles of LaRouche’s works (they’re listed as books at Amazon – but many are probably pamphlets and article reprints.) makes great reading, even if no single one stands out.

“Now, Are You Ready To Learn Economics?”
“Children of Satan” [Cheney on the cover]
“The Science of Christian Economy: The Prison Writings of Lyndon Larouche”
“The final defeat of Ayatollah Khomeini: A doctrine of constitutional law for the Iranian renaissance from the dark age of neo-Asharite irrationalism”
“The ugly truth about Milton Friedman ”
“The power of reason: A kind of autobiography”
“Will the Soviets rule during the 1980’s”
“Cold Fusion: A Challenge to United States Science Policy”
“The Economics of the Noosphere”
“How to eliminate the threat of nuclear holocaust: A policy proposal by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr. for the development of anti-missile beam weapons”
“Briefingate: The KGB-FBI-Manatt plot to destroy the U.S. presidency”
“A certain difference between the great Jesse Owens and the present Jesse Jackson” [WTF? – jps]
“Leading economist LaRouche proposes emergency action against U.S. banking collapse” [1985 version]


Jacob Christensen 11.26.07 at 6:38 pm

Re: Cooking with Pooh.

Thank goodness the books were translated to Danish before global branding of childrens’ stories took over completely. The bear is called Peter Plys (Peter Plush) in Danish – Cooking with Plush is perhaps more bizarre than disgusting to imagine.


Scott McLemee 11.26.07 at 9:31 pm

jps — I actually have that 70th birthday festschrift, which no doubt brightened the day for him as he spent it in the Federal pen for credit card fraud.

The LaRouchies must have socked away some of the loot in an offshore account to pay for it. The printing job is deluxe. There’s a special insert of tributes that arrived too late for inclusion, also printed on really nice paper. Manuel Noriega sends his best, for example.


goatchowder 11.28.07 at 6:04 pm

Must. Resist. Posting. 2girls1cup. Link.

Comments on this entry are closed.