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An evening conversation: Stop whining

By Stephen Cameron

It happens every time.

Mention one of Lewis Grizzard’s famously crazy book titles and it’s a gold-plated guarantee that some kind of wacky discussion will break out.

I opened that door in Monday’s Mercury, making a passing reference to Grizzard’s book, “Elvis is Dead and I Don’t Feel Good Myself.”

Sure enough, I heard right away from some Grizzard freaks (and bless you all). There is still an amazing fan base for the southern-fried newspaper icon and all-around humorist, a guy who died in 1994 at age 47.

Several people hurried to e-mail some other Grizzard classics, like “Shoot Low, Boys, They’re Ridin’ Shetland Ponies.”

Those are my own favorites, but a couple of folks still loyal to their Dixie roots apparently prefer Grizzard’s rant about how miserable he was while living in Chicago. It was titled “If I Ever Get Back to Georgia, I’m Gonna Nail My Feet to the Ground.”

But this isn’t just a testimonial to the very funny Lewis Grizzard.

Nope.

We’re talking about book titles in general.

I’ve written 14 books, including one novel, and each time I’ve tried to talk the publisher into using a wild title — you know, the kind of thing that would make you stop in the aisle of a bookstore or stare at the screen while browsing Amazon online.

(Yes, I admit that my pal Grizzard’s success may have influenced the idea right from the start.)

Anyhow, I never got my way.

My boss, Ned Seaton, has a copy of a biography I wrote in the 1990s about Kansas City Royals hero George Brett. It was called “Last of a Breed,” and sold fairly well.

For the record, that had a lot more to do with Brett’s popularity than my prose, but let’s get back to titles.

I wanted to call that book “Lost My Bonus Money Investing in Cattle, and I’d Never Seen a Cow.”

See, George told me that story —how his brother somehow blew a $25,000 signing bonus on cattle futures — on his first night in the big leagues, and…

Never mind.

“Last of a Breed” was probably a better idea.

The truth, of course, is that a title can make you rich, or kill a book before it ever reaches a second printing.

For instance, do think Dr. Spencer Johnson would have earned a fortune with a self-help book titled “An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and Your Life”?

Nobody had heard of Spencer Johnson in 1998 when the book was published, and you can probably stump people by asking about him now.

Ah, but what you just read actually became the sub-title to his book about dealing with life changes.

Some bright bunny talked Dr. Johnson into getting readers’ attention with a different approach.

And so a little 94-page book called “Who Moved My Cheese?” spent five years on the New York Times best-seller list.

To date, more than 26 million copies have been sold — in 37 languages.

There’s the proof that you never want to scoff at a book title.

No, not even one of the worst self-help books ever published: “Shut Up, Stop Whining and Get a Life,” by Larry Wingert. 

The author of that one describes himself on the book jacket as “The Pit Bull of Professional Development,” but frankly, his theories strike me as a recipe for terror-induced depression.

I’m actually a bit afraid that Larry might read this column and maybe throw grenades around downtown Manhattan to make us all better people.You know, we could go on and on…

But it’s late, I’m tired and really anxious to curl up with “Come on Shore, and We Will Kill and Eat You All,” by the charming Christina Thompson.

I’m sure it’s all warm and fuzzy.









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