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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: A Title of Uncommon Stickiness

The [just published] Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer sports a title that sets viscosity records in mental stickiness. It reminds us by example that titles are much more than accessories or afterthoughts. Would I have opened the book, Heroic Librarians Save the Day down Sub-Sahara Way? Probably not.  

A title—bad-ass or otherwise—contributes disproportionately to a book’s identity. And it wields added weight via the Primacy Effect, which skews the impact of messages positioned up front.
The above title succeeds on multiple fronts. Each of its components—i.e., bad-ass librarians; Timbuktu—evokes concrete images. And their juxtaposition is amusingly anomalous. You just might  open the book to find out why.

Preserving Culture

What’s more, the title’s got rhythm. Individually and in combination, its components aid and abet percussive, polyrhythmic cadences. On first and subsequent hearings, the title’s 11-syllable play-out seemed vaguely familiar. Then I remembered the Owl and the Pussycat:

The Bad-Ass            Librarians of                            Timbuktu

The     Owl               and the pussy cat                    went to sea

My only misgiving with all this is that in lending the title dominance on the book’s cover/dust jacket, the publisher has diminished clarity by deploying a stylized fancy-ass cursive (sse first graphic). By the way, the book is a gracefully written deep dive into Mali's beautiful literary and musical heritage—a culture (among others) that is at risk at the hands of bad-asses (not the librarians) who infuse their transcendent aims with testosterone poisoning.

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