White Pages & Glossy Photos: A Rubric for Titling Cookbooks

"Well, this is lovely,"  I thought as the new cookbook slid out of its padded envelope.  "Rose Water and Orange Blossoms," it read, in a curling thick cursive.  I scanned downward to see what kind of Middle Eastern food we were talking about - Lebanese, it turned out.

Inside, the format didn't seduce me as readily - double-columned, unnumbered steps, wide leading but tight kerning.  But each time I closed the book, that title just pulled me right back in again.  "Now that's some powerful marketing,"  I thought.

There is something just instantly evocative, for me, in titles that use the formula XY & X'Y', where X is an adjective and Y is a concrete noun.  You instantly start visualizing, and once you've done that your senses are trapped.  Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - another juicy-looking book from this season using the same ploy.

In fact, when I think about it, there have been many cookbooks that have trapped my senses and caught my attention - Sweet Cream & Sugar Cones, the terrific ice cream book from Bi-Rite Creamery.  Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume, Silvena Rowe's well-received title from a couple years before that (by "Purple Citrus" she just means "sumac," but doesn't "Purple Citrus" sound better?)

The farthest-back one I can recall off the top of my head is Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes, from 2008 (though I'm sure there are earlier instances).  It's a gorgeous book, and it was popular too, yet I can't recall a single recipe from it that's gone into regular rotation for me.  Do I really only love it for its title?

Have you, too, ever been a sucker for this kind of title?  And how did it work out, in the long run?

4 Comments

  • Breadcrumbs  on  2/24/2015 at 6:54 PM

    I'm a real sucker for beautiful photos so when an evocative title is paired with a pretty picture I'm usually rendered powerless. and a purchase is imminent. I immediately thought of Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes when I saw Brown Eggs and Jam Jars on the EYB home page today. I've had one hit and one miss from that book but I rarely pull it off the shelf as I still recall being disappointed that you couldn't judge the book by its cover because the recipe weren't nearly as enticing at the title or cover shot. All that said, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars is en route to me now...I'll let you know how that works out!!!

  • DKennedy  on  2/24/2015 at 7:04 PM

    What Breadcrumbs said goes for me too. I am a sucker for a pretty cover and a catchy name. Let us know how Brown eggs pleases your palate!

  • MelMM  on  2/25/2015 at 9:11 AM

    I noticed a few years ago that we were starting to get a glut of titles that were either "This & This" or "This, This, and This". The Silvana Rowe book was one that jumped to my mind when I started reading this post. But there was also "Crazy Water Pickled Lemons" and "Roast Figs and Sugar Snow" by Diana Henry. Tessa Kiros has "Falling Cloudberries", "Piri Piri Starfish", and "Limoncello and Linen Water", just to name a few. Denis Cotter even got into the act with "Gooseberries, Wild Garlic, and Me". An excellent book, by the way, title notwithstanding. After seeing too many titles that seemed to be following a formula, it started backfiring, at least where I was concerned. When a title looks to me like it is trying to be evocative, but I am seeing it as formulaic to the point of rolling my eyes, the book faces an uphill battle to get me to take it seriously.

  • hillsboroks  on  2/25/2015 at 2:27 PM

    Remember the old kid phrase "Made you look!" that a child would shout after they said something strange or outrageous? Well these cookbook titles do make me look. I don't always buy but there is definitely something about the style of these kinds of titles that will make me stop in a book store or online and take closer look at them. But on the flip side there are some kinds of titles that I never bother to look at. A book that says it is the ultimate, the best or has 2000 recipes for something just makes me pass it by. Maybe the publishers have got us all figured out finally?

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