Bookworms will have no trouble recognizing the cliché in the subtitle of Michael Lenehan’s new book: “Ramblers: Loyola Chicago 1963 — The Team that Changed the Color of College Basketball.” Wow, a pivot point in sports history!
Publishing houses have a well-worn relish for sweeping change, or at least for plugging it on the covers of the works they put on the bookshelves. Just run a search for “books changed America” or “books changed world.” In 2005, Ben Yagoda wrote a New York Times essay on this lack of originality in book labeling, titled “The Subtitle that Changed America.”
Perhaps less common than change-oriented cover language is an author who repudiates his subtitle right smack in the same book. In the foreword of “Ramblers,” Lenehan writes that he doesn’t buy the language, and he pulls down some other authors with him (Disclosure: Lenehan is a former boss and a friend):
I don’t really believe that the Loyola Ramblers singlehandedly “changed the color of college basketball,” any more than I think the Texas Western-Kentucky game in 1966 “changed America forever” (Don Haskins, Glory Road), or that the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird championship of 1979 “transformed basketball” (Seth Davis, When March Went Mad) or that North Carolina’s 1957 victory over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas “revolutionized college basketball” (Adam Lucas, The Best Game Ever). A book like this is obliged to make such a claim on its cover, but we all know better: basketball, never mind America, is not transformed by a single game or team or season.
Author Adam Lucas, what do you have to say against the charges of book-cover hyperbole being leveled against you? Lucas, via e-mail:
I didn’t like the title, but was outvoted by the publisher. I feel like making such a claim takes away from the discussion of the actual game and moves the discussion to exactly what we’re doing right now — trying to decide if it was actually “the best game ever.” It doesn’t matter. It just matters that it was a great game with a story worth telling, which is what the book was intended to do, and why I would’ve preferred a different title.
Authors, take control of your covers.