Publisher Emanuel Haldeman-Julius debuted his "little blue books" in 1919. These were cheaply bound, pocket-sized literary and academic works designed to make highbrow culture accessible to the masses. They sold for five cents each.
Haldeman-Julius didn't do this for charity. He wanted to sell as many titles as possible, and to achieve this he would often alter the titles to make them more appealing to consumers. Basically, he would sex up the titles.
For example, he added the subtitle "The Quest for a Blonde Mistress" to Theophier Gautier’s novel The Fleece of Gold. Sales leapt from 6000 to 50,000 copies a year. (Apparently, 'quest for a blonde mistress' is an accurate description of the book's plot.)
Other titles that benefitted from a title change:
• "The Tallow Ball" by Guy de Maupassant became "A French Prostitute's Sacrifice."
• None Beneath the King by José Zorrilla became None Beneath the King Shall Enjoy This Woman.
• Victor Hugo’s The King Amuses Himself became The Lustful King Enjoys Himself.
Haldeman-Julius didn't always make the titles more risque. Sometimes he emphasized self-improvement, and that also had a positive effect on sales. For example, sales of Thomas De Quincey’s Essay on Conversation jumped when it was renamed How To Improve Your Conversation. Similarly, Arthur Schopenhauer’s Art of Controversy became How to Argue Logically. And Dante and Other Waning Classics became Facts You Should Know About the Classics.
It is really amazing what the change of a word may do. The mere insertion of a word often works wonders with a book. Take the account of that European mystery of intrigue and political romance, which Theodore M. R. von Keler did for me under the title of The Mystery of the Iron Mask. This title was fair. It certainly tells what the book is about. But there is something aloof about it. It may, says the reader to himself, be another one of those poetic titles. It may fool me, he thinks, and so he bewares. But I changed it to The Mystery of the Man in the Iron Mask, and now there can be no question, for the record is 30,000 against 11,000 copies per year. Two other "slight" additions come to mind. Victor Hugo's drama, The King Enjoys Himself (Rigoletto; translated by Maurice Samuel), and Zorilla's, the Spanish Shakespeare's, None Beneath the King (translated by Isaac Goldberg) were both rather sick—8,000 for the first and only 6,000 for the second. In 1927, lo and behold, the miraculous cure of title-changing brought 34,000 sales for None Beneath the King Shall Enjoy This Woman, and 38,000 for The Lustful King Enjoys Himself! Snatched from the grave! Then there was Whistler's lecture, fairly well known under the title Ten o'Clock. But readers of Little Blue Books are numbered by at least ten thousand for each title yearly. Due to the concentrated interest shown in self-education and self-improvement this helpful lecture on art should be read widely—following this reasoning, the proper explanatory title evolved into What Art Should Mean to You. Readers are more interested in finding out what art should mean to them than in discovering what secret meaning may lie behind such a phrase as "ten o'clock." In 1925 the old title sold less than 2,000; in 1927, the sales, stimulated by The Hospital's service mounted to 9,000.
Prompted by a concern that British cemeteries were running out of space, Professor Douglas Davies was commissioned to research public attitudes about reusing graves. The result was his book Reusing Old Graves, which became the 1995 winner of the Diagram Prize for oddest title of the year.
The primary inquiry of the research was put in a leading way. Respondents were not asked 'Do you think graves should or should not be reused?'. Instead they were asked what period of time should elapse before a grave could be used for new burials by a different family. Despite the form of the question 35 per cent of respondents said they never should be reused. As against this 62 per cent were willing to countenance the reuse of graves after varying periods (3 per cent were undecided). The periods given ranged from one year to two hundred, the most popular being 100, 50, 20, 30, 75, 150, and 10 in that order.
In 1960, Monarch Books announced the launch of Perfume-o-Books. These were books infused with perfume.
They had plans to use a saddle-leather scent for westerns, floral odors for flower-arrangement books, and food scents for cookbooks.
All of which seemed logical. However, they decided to launch the line with three movie tie-in titles: "The Enemy General," by Dan Pepper, "The Stranglers of Bombay," by Stuart James, and "The Brides of Dracula," by Dean Owen. These three titles were each infused with a "Chanel 5 type perfume."
They seem like very odd titles to have been perfumed. And evidently the perfume didn't appreciably help sales, because no more perfume-o-book titles were ever printed.
Mills & Boon books are the British equivalent of Harlequin romances.
Which is the setup for an odd fact, which sounded to me like an urban legend when I first came across it, but it turned out to be true. As you drive along the M6 Motorway in Britain, you're driving on copies of Mills & Boon romances, because 2.5 million of these books were used in the construction of the road.
about 2,500,000 of the books were acquired during the construction of the M6 Toll. The novels were pulped at a recycling firm in south Wales and used in the preparation of the top layer of the West Midlands motorway, according to building materials suppliers Tarmac. The pulp which helps hold the Tarmac and asphalt in place also acts as a sound absorber and is vital in the construction of roads.
Richard Beal, the company's project manager for the M6 Toll, said the books' absorbent qualities made them a vital ingredient in the construction of the country's first pay-as-you-go motorway.... for every mile of motorway approximately 45,000 books were needed.
I haven’t been able to find any photos or scans of it online. And according to Worldcat, it’s only held by two US libraries. So, it’s extremely obscure. However, its existence establishes Khrushchev coloring books as a tiny, but existing literary genre.
Knoxville News Sentinel - Jan 20, 1963
Some selections from the text ran in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Apr 18, 1963):
Paul Di Filippo
Paul has been paid to put weird ideas into fictional form for over thirty years, in his career as a noted science fiction writer. He has recently begun blogging on many curious topics with three fellow writers at The Inferior 4+1.