Unsolved mysteries

I’m formulating something in response to the discussion at Frogs and Ravens and Liliputian Lilith about intellectuals in and out of the university. In the meantime, here are a few of the other (massive and weighty) questions I’ve been pondering:

1. When did all novels start appearing with the subtitle "A Novel" on their front covers? It seems a relatively new phenomenon. Lately I’ve noticed that some of these subtitled novels use the subtitle as a means of broadcasting key details of setting or plot before you even pick up the book and look at the blurb. The Stiletto-Maker’s Apprentice: A Novel of Intrigue in Eighteenth-century Venice. Under the Sound Stage: A Novel about Hollywood. The Strollers of Park Avenue: Yet Another Novel About New York Nannies.

2. When did publishers start color-coding the covers of paperbacks so you can automatically tell which ones are the Chick Novels? They all look alike, graphic-design-wise. It’s disturbingly like walking past the Barbie aisle in a toystore.

3. When did "stylish" become the default adjective to modify "thriller" in movie-review parlance? Everything is a "stylish thriller." Is it just shorthand for "wannabe Hitchcock," or what?

4. When did waitstaff in restaurants start using the phrase "Are you still working on that?" to ask if you’re finished with your food? Why does no one seem to notice how depressing this question is? "Working on that," as if eating in a restaurant were a tiresome chore rather than a pleasure. What are you supposed to say in return? "Yes, I’m working on choking down the last of this steak; it’s not easy suppressing my gag reflex, but by God, I’m giving it my best shot!"

(Apparently, though, I am not the only person who hates this question.)

5. When did Iggy Pop’s "Lust for Life" become the default background music for cruise ship and vacation-package commercials? (Not just Carnival; I just heard it in another vacation commercial.) Does anyone else experience really freaky Trainspotting/Carnival Cruise Lines montages in their head as a result?

6. Why does the thought of Unsolved Mystery #5 make me want to rush out and buy the Trainspotting soundtrack right this minute? I have the sudden urge to listen to Lou Reed’s "Perfect Day" again. There goes my resolve not to burden myself with more new things before moving.

12 Responses to “Unsolved mysteries”

  1. Clancy says:

    LOL! I’ve thought the same thing about “A Novel.” Great post; it’s right up there with 5ives fare. Here’s my attempt to ape a 5ive:
    Five words I think should have been on the Merriam-Webster’s top 10 favorite words list:
    1. simpleton
    2. crapper
    3. hellhole
    4. poetaster
    5. perforce

  2. Frolic says:

    I can’t agree more about number 4. I also dislike the phrase “Does everything taste all right?”

  3. Rana says:

    Hmm… haven’t heard any of those things from the waitstaff. But then I don’t eat out all that much.
    I am LOL about the “Barbie Aisle” phenomenon. I knew there was a reason I wasn’t reading those things — too much pink.
    Oh, my. I just realized that “the” spring fashion colors are black and pink. You don’t suppose someone is _matching_ the books to the fashions? Eee…

  4. Jeannette says:

    well, to be honest, I’m relieved when they designate themselves as “novel”, because sometimes I’m not sure. 🙂

  5. LiL says:

    This post cracks me up.
    With the restaurant staff – if I’m working on the food they gave me, maybe they should pay me for eating it rather than vice versa.
    The chick novels: one knows immediately not to pick them up. Except… There’s a funny thing I noticed – I shop at this incredible used bookstore which has publisher’s uncorrected proofs of a lot of chick novels, and with the undesigned cover, before I even set eyes on the designey ones, I actually enjoy reading some of them. I’d never buy one with a pink-and-black cover. That color scheme didn’t do it for me in the eighties and it doesn’t do it for me now. Same goes for the “…: A Novel…” books – the uncorrected proofs often don’t have that stuff.
    My question is: why are the publishing industry’s marketing tactics actually offputting to those of us who (supposedly) read the most?

  6. Michelle says:

    I feel so very unhip.

  7. LiL says:

    You’re not unhip, Michelle. If you mean reading chick novels – I have to admit another reason I buy the uncorrected proofs is that they’re much cheaper, and I don’t have to go to B&N and feel bad about either having spent so much on quick reads or not having the money to buy myself all the amusement in the world…

  8. Clancy says:

    Isn’t anyone going to laugh at my 5ive? It’s gold, people, GOLD! 😛

  9. mccoll says:

    I loved this post. I’ve heard variations on the “still working on that?” line so many times that last time–I blush to admit it–I opened my mouth in response.

  10. Michelle says:

    I have a response to #4. Before they did that, they just took the food away. They didn’t even ask. “Are you still working on that” became a euphemism for asking if they could take your plate. :p

  11. Josh Lukin says:

    The one that perplexes me is servers asking, “Are you all set?” to mean “Are you done?” I don’t get it at all.

  12. yami says:

    Maybe “all set” is just a Midwestern idiom adopted by wannabe-folksy types, kinda like waitresses who call you “hon”. But I’ve used “all set” to mean “ready to leave” for forever without thinking anything of it…