The Chan Pimple, or How to be Pope
By Nury Vittachi
A friend called me yesterday to tell me he had writer’s block. He was writing something he was “almost certain would be a major bestseller”, but had come to a complete halt. “How far have you got?” I asked.
“I’m just working on the title at the moment,” he said.
“Yeah, but how much of the story have you written?”
“I’m just working on the title at the moment,” he repeated.
“You mean you haven’t written any of it? Well, what’s the title?”
“That’s just it. I can’t think of one. But I know it’s going to be a major bestseller. I have a feeling in my gut.”
I told him that unless he stopped wasting my time, I would use my boot to give him a feeling in another part of his anatomy, one which happens to rhyme with “gut”.
A thriller writer I know told me to generate titles using the Robert Ludlum three-word trick. The first word is “the”, the second is a random name, and the third is a random noun. Ludlum had big hits with “The Bourne Identity”, “The Ostermann Weekend”, “The Holcroft Covenant” and so on.
Incidentally, Mr Ludlum’s most recent book is “The Bancroft Strategy”, which is interesting since he’s been dead for seven years and his writing style has improved dramatically since his death.
Yet I found that the three-word trick works fine for Western names, but fails miserably with Asian ones. Would you buy a thriller called The Chan Pimple? The Kumar Weiner? The Shriramacharitamanasa Deodorant? No, me neither.
The other option is to simply be ultra-creative, but competition is tough. “The Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories” came out in 2003. Last year I saw a book called “Monograph of the Horny Sponges” which must be incredibly dull or utterly fascinating: no middle ground there.
Bookseller magazine organizes contests for the oddest titles of real books. Among recent contenders: “Living With Crazy Buttocks”, “How Green Were the Nazis?” and “The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification”. I’m pleased to say that there was an Asian entry: “A General Analysis of the Counting Methods of Chopped Yarrow Stalks in the Book of Changes.”
Other titles from their list: “Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers”, “Bombproof Your Horse” and “American Bottom Archeology”.
But I reckon academia produces the most bizarre titles. Some appear to have been written for extremely small audiences, such as “Male Genitalia of Butterflies of the Balkan Peninsula”. Some one hopes have been written for extremely small audiences, such as “Knitting with Dog Hair: Better a Sweater from a Dog You Know and Love than A Sheep You’ll Never Meet.”
And I know of one book which appears to have been written for only one reader every couple of decades: “How to Be Pope: What to Do and Where to Go Once You’re in the Vatican”.
I saw a book the other day called “How to Write a How to Write Book”. In other words, it is a book which tells you how to write a book which tells you how to write a book. What a despicably cynical idea. I wish I’d thought of it first.
In the meantime, if anyone knows how to contact the Pope, please tell him I have a book with his name on it.