Saturday, October 4, 2008

Now *this* is a book title

I'm at work today, and I found an uncatalogued book in the closed stacks:

Coryat's crudities; reprinted from the edition of 1611. To which are now added, his letters from India, &c. and extracts relating to him, from various authors, being a more particular account of his travels (mostly on foot) in different parts of the globe, than any hitherto published. Together with his orations, character, death &c. With copper-plates ...

This little gem hit the London bookstalls in 1776, and probably provided a welcome distraction from the hooliganism of American colonists. And lest the second word of the title make you think the book started off with dirty jokes (which is perfectly plausible: those Jacobeans could be a raunchy bunch), that's simply how Thomas Coryat, Esq., spelled crudités: the book is a gastronomical travelogue, and was originally entitled:

Coryat's Crudities Hastily gobbled up in five Moneth's travells in France, Savoy, Italy, Rhetia comonly Called the Grisons country, Hel- Vetia alias Switzerland, some Parts of both high Germany, and the Netherlands; Newly digested in the hungry aire Of Odcombe in the County of Somerset, and now dispersed to the Nourishment of the travelling Members of this Kingdome.

A friend informed me that the British comic writer Tim Moore retraced Coryat's journey in the 'nineties and wrote it up as Continental Drifter.

When I learned that, I immediately understood why book sales have tanked in recent years. As a title, Continental Drifter is concise and mildly evocative, but it's pretty lackluster compared to Coryat's crudities; reprinted... I'm sure Drifter is a perfectly readable book, but where are the promises of "orations, character, death"--and the added enticement of copper plates?

And don't get me started on comparisons to the original title: Moore's book just makes me picture some down-and-out wandering God knows where (he doesn't even specify which continent). The good Mr. Coryat, on the other hand, dangles France, Savoy, Italy and Hel-Vetia before my eyes, and refreshes me with bracing thoughts of the hungry aire of Odcombe.

Screw the big displays at Borders: titles like Coryat's crudities? Now that's marketing.

By the way--Coryat is credited with introducing the fork to the Anglophone world. What's Tim Moore done for us lately?

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