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Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Holy Hullabaloos, The Title

So, back in 2007 I got tenure (barely, but that's a story for a separate post and ongoing bi-weekly sessions with my therapist) and I wanted to do something fun and different for my sabbatical.  I spent half the year teaching on a Fulbright in Krakow, which was glorious, and for the other half I researched this book I have coming out in June from Beacon Press called Holy Hullabaloos: A Road Trip to the Battlegrounds of the Church/State Wars. 

Basically, for six months I went around the country visiting all sorts of fascinating places related to some of the big church-state cases and controversies that I've been teaching about for years.  I went to a high school football game in Santa Fe, Texas; an Amish farm in New Glarus, Wisconsin (where Yoder came from); the Texas Capitol grounds in Austin; the Creation Museum in Kentucky; and Kiryas Joel in New York, among others.  I talked to the last Amish guy left in New Glarus (he was recovering from a motorcycle accident), the Rabbi from Lee v. Weisman, Ernesto Pichardo from the Lukumi Babalu case, Thomas Van Orden, the Senate Chaplain, and all sorts of other fascinating people, including Adin Yutzy, the one actual plaintiff from Yoder who is still alive.  The trips were definitely the highlight of my professional career.  In the book, I use the trips to spice up my description and analysis of church-state law, and also to make jokes.  I like to think of the book as the only First-Amendment/memoir/travelogue/comedy ever written. 

What I wanted to talk about a little here is how the title came about. 

Choosing a title for a book turns out to be a ridiculously difficult task.  You want to choose something that is memorable, reflects the tone of the book, and gets across what the book is about.  Or that's what I think the title is supposed to do anyway.

The original working title of the book was "Free Exercise, Expensive Gas: A Church-State Road Trip."  This was inspired by an email exchange I had with a very funny guy named Wayne Gladstone, who when I asked him what I should title my book, said something like "Gas is expensive; the exercise of religion is free."  I thought this was a master stroke, and I thought of the book as having this Free Exercise, Expensive Gas title through the entire time I was writing it.

But when I turned the final draft into my publisher, the people at Beacon had other ideas.  They said it was a mouthful, and that people wouldn't know what it was about.  At first, I was like grumble grumble, but then I realized they were right.  It's hard to say "Free Exercise, Expensive Gas" ten times fast, and nobody who is not a lawyer really thinks of religion when you say "free exercise" either.

But what to call it instead?  Nobody had any idea.  I brainstormed.  One idea, building off a suggestion from my first editor at Beacon, Brian Halley, was to call it something like "Hasidic Hullabaloos, Santeria Skirmishes, and Other First Amendment Fracases: A Church-State Road Trip."  This, it was suggested, would not be easy to remember in a bookstore.  Then I thought of "Everything You Need to Know About Church-State Law, Except for Those Things You Need To Know But Aren't Covered."  This, it was suggested, was too evocative of the 1970s.  I thought of titles using the phrase "Sixteen Words" (the first sentence of the first amendment has sixteen words), like "Sixteen Words: Two Hundred Years of Controversy" or "Sixteen Words: One Big Headache" or "Sixteen Words: Two Hundred and Sixty-Nine Pages of Crap" but all were rejected.  I was out of ideas.

Luckily, Helene Atwan, my editor and the Director of Beacon Press and longtime publishing genius, came up with this Holy Hullabaloos idea.  She suggested it on a Friday I think, and by Monday I was totally on board.  I like how it is both an adjective-noun combination and an exclamation, as in "Holy Hullabaloos, Batman, the Amish guy is driving his buggy right at us!"

Anyone else want to share their title stories?

Posted by Jay Wexler on December 9, 2008 at 08:36 AM | Permalink


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Ian Ayres supposedly came up with the title of his book by putting a couple of different titles into Google ads and seeing which one got the most clicks.

Posted by: krs | Dec 9, 2008 4:43:19 PM

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