Great Books – Rotten Titles…

How many times have you browsed a shelf of books and groaned at the plethora of generic, unimaginative or rather obscure seeming titles? You know the sort – you generally don’t even stop to pick them up. P1330789Sometimes that means missing out on a little gem. I was browsing our own stock room shelves recently while re-arranging the every shifting selection and a couple of titles stood out for just this reason . I’d read both, enjoyed both and yet the titles…. not good!

The first is quite amusing as the author even apologizes for the banal title in his introduction (see below)  and that author is highy respected AUTOSPORT  Formula One editor of many decades, Nigel Roebuck. P1330790This 1986 book is a personal homily to drivers who’s presence in the sport had, in various ways impressed and inspired the author as a reporter , a freind or simply as a fan. They are his heroes and a diverse group they prove to be. Some were multiple world champions like Alain Prost, others like Chris Amon or Jean Behra never actually won a points-paying Grand Prix, some died before he was even born (Rosemeyer) but cast a long and influential shadow. Some, he admits in the introduction, could “by no means” be “Described as great” . No matter.  The enthusiastic word-portraits Roebuck crearte of each are just wonderful.  Illustrated with paintings by the late Craig Warwick and an assortment of great period photos, the book really should be on every F1 enthusiast’s shelves but the title ….GRAND PRIX GREATS…could have been chosen by the bargain book buyer for Woolworths!

The other is also a personal memoir by a respected motor racing journalist, but in this case it’s a man of an earlier generation who drove race cars as well as typewriters and raced at Brooklands, before the war put a stop to his fun. John Dugdale is the author and his book is full of nice little stories and details about what it was like to ‘be there’ at Brooklands among Bira and Mays, Dixon and Seaman, Earl Howe and the Like.

P1330780But it’s title is GREAT MOTORSPORT OF THE THIRTIES. You open the pages in anticipation of Grand Prix Mercedes and Auto Unions. Of Nuvolari, Varzi, Lang & Caracciola. Of Le Mans, the Targa, The Vanderbilt Cup, the Indy 500…..and it’s about some of that, but not in any detail. It’s also a bit pic-n-mix in nature and combines Auto Unions with the story of Brooklands’ FASTEST ROAD CAR event and the building of a a neat looking single seater MG which the author raced.

Where Roebuck’s book is way deeper than it’s title, Dugdale’s is largely about other things. I was a bit dissatisfied by the latter when I bought it, as a teeneager, obsessed as I was with motor racing history. I wanted to read about Nuvolari and Varzi in detail but it was all a bit shallow. In hindsight,  it’s a really nice book, but the title just gives you the wrong expectations.

P1330783Aside from these two titles , there are a few more that spring to mind although ,confession time, I have not read any of them properly to date. ALONG FOR THE RIDE sounds pretty dismal. Ride? On a bike? A train? a London Bus? No it’s a bunch of stories about NASCAR racing in the USA and it’s long history of larger-than-life charcters. But just seeing the title, you never would have guessed. Like most of these books there is a more illuminating subtitle but seldom do these subtitles feature on the all important spine. So when you browse the shelf looking for a story about some proper NASCAR cheatin’, fightin’ and maybe a bit of moonshine runnin’, ALONG FOR THE RIDE does not call out to you.

P1330786Anthony Pritchard had many books published over a long career and several were blessed with titles that were  spectacularly banal. The 1970 book HISTORIC MOTOR RACING is a particularly underwhelming example , but this one is also as misleading as ALONG FOR THE RIDE . It’s not about “Historic” motor racing, as we know it today (Goodwood Revival, VSCC, Monaco Historic GP etc) it’s about the history of the sport. No great detail, it has to be said, and Pritchard was never a very enthralling author, but this book does have some very nice early colour photos . Given the dud title it’s never attained much monitary value . Your’s for £10 and worth chcking it out at that price.P1330777

Years later the same author issued GRAND PRIX RACING THE ENTHUSIASTS COMPANION. Not very inspiring as titles go. It evoked the impression of those earnest books called something like “The Young Person’s Guide To Correct Fly Fishing” that you tended to see in the 1940s and 1950s rather than at the time this was issued in 1991. That aside, it’s not a guide, a statistical reference or anything of that nature that the ‘companion’ bit might indicate,  it’s a fairly straightforward, well illustrated, history from the first GRAND PRIX in 1906 to the 500th that countered for world championship points, at the end of 1990. Again there are some nice photos – Pritchard had access to some good ones… just not always with the owner’s permission as I know from my own experience ! Several of mine got used in his BRM V16 book and credited “author’s collection” although he had bought the copyright stamped prints direct from us only 6 month earlier…and neither asked to include them nor paid a penny towards the approproate reproduction fee. Nice chap… At least the publisher, HAYNES, were good enough to compensate us for that, although the author was still protesting that he knew better, when fate caught up with him one day shortly afterwards in a fatal road accident.

The final book in this short selection has such a bizarre title you might just pick it up to find out why! Most likely you would/would not simply by association with the author’s name . The title is THE GILT & THE GINGERBREAD.  I agree….that tells you absolutely nothing.  However, the author is the late Lord Montagu of Beaulieu, which does. So it’s probably a motoring book, right? Well, yes, but only obliquely. The subtitle is rather more illuminating P1330784HOW TO LIVE IN A STATELY HOME AND MAKE MONEY. Well Lord M. managed that OK, and largely by dint of his amazing car collection which became the National Motor Museum.  He also looks at the various other safari parks, funfairs and stately attractions used in other grand houses for the purpose of bringing in a few quid. I havn’t got to the root of the main title however. I’d need to read the book I guess. Personally I don’t think thats a great scenario. The title of a factual book really should reflect it’s content, surely?  Arty-farty titles full of cryptic connections to the text are fine in fiction. You rather expect that.  Playing guess-the-reason with a book on motoring seems somewhat counter productive and the value of such titles often suffers as a result. It’s very much a take on that old axiom “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”!

One thought on “Great Books – Rotten Titles…

  1. Duncan Macnab

    I’d agree and really the moral is to ignore the title and see who is the author or subject. I don’t think I would have bought ‘Daring Drivers, Deadly Tracks’, assuming it was a sensational collection of sad stories, without knowing it was Brian Redman’s biography. The same applied to ‘Shooting Star on a Prancing Horse’ until I saw that it was by Jonathan Williams.

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