Monday, September 10, 2007

There Once Was a Title So Mangled ...

It’s Monday again. Let’s start the week off right with a couple of delightful discoveries.

First, we learn (via Elizabeth Foxwell’s The Bunburyist) that librarian members of Fiction-L, “an electronic mailing list devoted to reader’s advisory topics,” have compiled a rather extensive rundown of book titles and authors’ names that readers frequent garble, distort, or otherwise “butcher.” Just a few of my favorites:

A Race Car Named Desire (aka A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams)
Bonfire of the Vampires (The Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe)
Eat a Cat by Post (Etiquette, by Emily Post)
Fire Hydrant 415 (Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury)
Lame Is Rob (Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo)
Oranges and Peaches (The Origin of Species, by Charles Darwin)
Satan in the White House (The Devil in the White City, by Erik Larson)
The Canine Mutiny (The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk)
The Lovely Boner (The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold)

And, of course, the best of them all:

Satanic Nurses (The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie)

The whole list, plus some muddled recollections by patrons struggling to tell librarians what exactly it is that they’re looking to find (“That book about Hotey the donkey” [Don Quixote, by Miguel Cervantes])--can be found here.

* * *
Second, who in hell has ever heard of “The Great Limerick Craze of 1907”? Sad to say, we hadn’t, until yesterday, when Britain’s Independent on Sunday brought us this recollection:
In September 1907 a magazine called London Opinion offered a big cash prize for the reader who could come up with the best last line for the following limerick:

There was a young lady of Ryde
Whose locks were consider’bly dyed.
The hue of her hair
Made everyone stare ...
The winning submission was apparently, “‘She’s piebald, she’ll die bald!’ they cried.”

The Independent goes on to explain that the London Opinion “was only one of dozens of papers and periodicals to run such a competition.
This year marks the centenary of what became one of the greatest crazes ever to grip the British nation, as limerick fever took a hold on all social classes. The extent of the contagion was measured by a statement to the House of Commons by the postmaster-general who noted the following year that sales of sixpenny postal orders--the standard entry fee for the contests--had risen from 800,000 the year before to 11 million. Nearly six million were sold in the month of August alone.
In commemoration of that limericking ludicrousness, The Independent has decided to renew the London Opinion’s 1907 contest, asking its readers and others to compose their own “best last line” for the limerick in boldface above. (Just one caution: The paper asks that entrants “resist the temptation to submit unprintably bawdy entries.”) The Independent goes on to promise that “[a] bottle of champagne awaits the 10 best suggestions received by 16 September. E-mail your lines to competitions@ The editor’s decision is final.”

You can read The Independent’s full report here.

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