Friday, 1 July 2011

Left book club

If you’re writing a book about the state of progressive politics, and you’re casting around for a catchy title, the rule of thumb seems to be: find a stock phrase that includes the word ‘left’ and suggests a punning reference to your topic - then add a sub-title that explains what your book is really about. The locus classicus, in Britain at any rate, is of course Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? How Liberals Lost Their Way - where the main title neatly alludes to the two meanings of the word ‘left’: what exactly is the left these days? and what remains of the left?

The nearest US equivalent is Michael Tomasky’s Left for Dead: The Life, Death and Possible Resurrection of Progressive Politics in America (American publishers love long sub-titles), where once again, there’s a clever play on the double meaning of ‘left’. However, my favourite example of the genre is Michael Sean Winters’ book about the falling-out between progressives and the Church: Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats (an even longer subtitle). You can imagine some editor dancing round the room when s/he came up with that one. 

But with these three stock phrases spoken for, where are new authors to find eye-catching titles for their explorations of the condition of liberal politics? Here are a few back-of-the- envelope ideas I came up with, which prospective scribblers should feel free to borrow. On the other hand, if you want to join in with this little diversion, you're welcome to add suggestions of your own. Here goes:

'Left on the Shelf: Socialism and the Single Person'

'Left Out: the Gay Voice in Progressive Politics'

'Left in the Dark: Labour and the Energy Crisis'

'Left Back' (or Outside Left, or Inside Left): Soccer and Socialism (with its companion volume: 'Outside Right: Extremism on the Terraces')

And, on reflection, I think Tomasky’s choice of title is a waste. Surely ‘Left for Dead’ would be much more appropriate for a book about radicalism in the undertakers’ union?

Finally, to get really cheeky:

'Left Behind: Pippa Middleton’s Radical Past'

5 comments:

bensix said...

Left the Building: How I Realised That Organised Politics is a Waste of Time and Went to Get a Life.

bob said...

Got a title, Dressing to the Left, but can't come up with the subtitle.

Martin Robb said...

Bensix - Surely 'Left the Building' would be a book about the decline of radical architecture? And Bob - could 'Dressing to the Left' be about socialism and fashion?

Richard said...

The Left Book Club was started by Gollancz in the 1930's. A loose alliance of liberals, socialists and CPers, until the about turn of the CP after the Molotov Ribbentrop Pact. "Betrayal of the Left" is well worth reading.

There's a couple of second-hand book-dealers with good names. Left On The Shelf in Kendal and Red Star Books.

Steve Hayes said...

I have "The socialist sixth of the world" by the "Red" Dean of Canterbury. I think it was a Left Book Club book, or at least Gollancz.

But for a new title, how about "Left in the lurch: how to break and train tigers" by Nick Clegg.