Papivore, or How One Girl’s Appetite for Books Leads to an Awareness of Subtitles.

I pestered the girls at the Podium’s Ink and Stone
store to hunt down The Emperor of Scent (A True Story Of Perfume and Obsession)
for me. According to their records there was ONE copy left in their bookstore
and I was determined to bring it home with me. Twenty minutes of bobbing around
the shelves unearthed the object of my booklust.

Of course l cannot spend 20 minutes in a
bookstore and not want more books than what I actually went in for. And so,
joining The Emperor are: Antonio Damaso’s Looking for Spinoza ( Joy, Sorrow and
the Feeling Brain), Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos ( Space, Time and
the Texture of Reality) and Abel’s Proof ( An Essay on the Sources and Meaning
of Mathematical Unsolvability) by Peter Pesic.

One way to tell if a book is hard
science masquerading as literature is how long its subtitle is. One of my
favorite books, Jonathan Weiner’s Time, Love, Memory, is subtitled “A Great
Biologist and His Quest for the Origins of Behavior.” There are also books whose
titles could be subtitles in themselves: for example, The Highly Selective
Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate could have been entitled,

Modern publishers could
also be uncomfortable with a title like “Looking for Spinoza” and just wish to
hedge their bets on the bookshelf, in the manner of wily webmasters building
meter-long metatags into their headers to ensure search engine hits. Your
average bookstore browser might not warm towards Spinoza (“Who?”) but could
certainly be encouraged by such passionate nouns as Joy and Sorrow. Explanatory
subtitles are nothing new in publishing history. Outside of books, movies,
instant noodles packages, marketing slogans, even celebrities have acquired
their own subtitles. Subtitles are now wielded not just with the intent to
enlighten but also to point out their own inherent irony. Who isn’t amused by
“Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the

You don’t see first editions of
Waiting for Godot subtitled, “Two Men, A Donkey and the Absurdity of Existence.”
Or “The Grapes of Wrath, or Poverty Comes With Its Own Salvation.” Or “King
Lear: I Have Three Daughters and Only One of Them’s Any

Titles can also become subtitles,
given time and public furor. (The over-18 warning applies to this link, please.)
Fanny Hill by John Cleland began life in 1748 as
“Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure.” Certainly a book you wouldn’t want to be seen
reading over a couple of dumplings and a spring roll at the next-door Chinese
restaurant. “Fanny Hill,” however, could be some obscure celebrity’s