How to give a book a cheeky title and get away with it
Wednesday 18 August 1999
Counsel: Mr Winthrop, I believe you have recently written a book called That Book Which Was Read On Radio 4 at 9.45 All Last Week. Defendant: I have.
Counsel: I believe it has sold well.
Defendant: I have no idea. The author is always the last to learn.
Counsel: I also believe that, despite your title, your book has not been read on Radio 4.
Defendant: You're right. It has not.
Counsel: Then why did you call it That Book Which Was Read On Radio 4 at 9.45 All Last Week?
Defendant: I liked the title. It had a certain post-modernist ring to it.
Counsel: Do you not think it was a misleading title?
Defendant: All book titles are misleading to a greater or less extent.
Counsel: Oh? Give us an example.
Defendant: Certainly. Take the Bible. "Bible" is merely biblos, the Greek word for "book", so the Bible just means "the Book". But there are many different books in the Bible. Why, then, is it called the Bible? Again, why is it divided into Old and New Testaments? What is a testament, in the context of the Bible? And why...?
Counsel: Thank you, Mr Winthrop. Do you have any more modern examples than the Bible?
Defendant: Plenty. Take Snow Falling on Cedars, for example. There are cedars in the book and snow does fall on them, but that is not what the book is about. If a tree surgeon with an interest in the effect of snow on conifer branches were to buy this book, I think he might be cruelly disappointed. If a farmer with an interest in soft fruit growing were to purchase The Greengage Summer, he would be right to ask for his money back. If...
Counsel: Nevertheless, I think you are being disingenuous. It is well- known that books read on Radio 4 in the morning do get publicity and a boost in sales. I put it to you that you gave your book the title That Book Which Was Read On Radio 4 at 9.45 All Last Week so that when people went into bookshops asking for that book which was read on Radio 4 at 9.45 all last week, they would buy your book rather than the one that they really wanted.
Defendant: And which one did they really want?
Counsel: That book which was read on Radio 4 at 9.45 all last week.
Defendant: Which is my book! Game and set, I believe.
Counsel: Not so fast, Mr Winthrop. Could you perhaps tell us what your book is about?
Defendant: Certainly. It tells the story of one of the policemen whose duty it was to guard Mr Salman Rushdie during the period of his fatwa. This policeman is moderately interested in books and gets into long conversations with Mr Rushdie, but disagrees so violently with him, and gets so maddened by his literary chit-chat, that he eventually accidentally on purpose kills him.
Counsel: The guard kills the man he is guarding?
Counsel: A bit unprofessional...
Defendant: But understandable.
Counsel: So what happens next?
Defendant: Well, the policeman covers it up by making it seem as if the fatwa had really succeeded and Rushdie had really been assassinated by an Islamic gunman.
Counsel: Hold on a moment! The plot is totally incredible! After all, Salman Rushdie is still alive!
Defendant: Are you sure? When did you last see him? When the fatwa was in force, Rushdie was always at parties and on the media. Now he is a free man, he is nowhere to be seen! Curious, wouldn't you say? That is why, in my book, it is not impossible that the policeman kills him...
Counsel: Does he get away with it?
Defendant: You'll have to read the book to find that out. The name is That Book Which Was Read On Radio 4 at 9.45 All Last Week, price pounds 19.99. At all good bookshops.
Counsel: Except the BBC Shop...
Defendant: Yes. They refused to stock it. I don't know why.
Counsel: Maybe because it falsely claimed to have a BBC connection.
Defendant: But what is a false claim? Is it false for James Joyce to call his book Ulysses, though the Greek hero never appears? Is it false for Wisden's to be called Wisden's, even though nobody called Wisden has any connection with that splendid cricket guide today? The BBC themselves have a programme called Match of the Day but not even the BBC would claim that the football featured therein is the best of the day...!
More of this thought-provoking case tomorrow
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