Books with Question Titles

Posted 2023-06-14

I’ve been playing around with some of the Open Library book data, and made an interesting mistake along the way. I incorrectly constructed a regular expression, using a literal question mark instead of an escaped question mark, and ended up with a list of book titles which end in question marks. This was a happy accident, since the results are interesting, and often hilarious, book titles:

Some patterns

I liked the first one, with the “what next?” tag question, so I looked for titles that end with that pattern, and found some 134 such titles, including these good ones:

The last one, too, has an interesting form, so I searched for books beginning with “What’s so funny about.” There were 21, mostly about religion:

Since there are several book titles which are addressed to a person, like “Elvis, is that you?” and “Jesus, is your Daddy mean?”, I tried searching for titles starting with “Jesus,” and there are 31. Here are a few:

The books that begin with “Elivis,” and end with a question mark, are fewer:

Books that begin with “how come” mostly sound like children’s books. (“How come” feels like children’s language to me, for some reason. There are some interesting explanations on the English Stackexchange, and Garner says to “avoid it in serious writing,” understandably.)

This makes for a funny tone in books that sound sound like they’re written for adults:

There are unfortunately no other books beginning “How Much Wine Will Fix…”

If you want to replicate this experiment, just grab the “works” dump from the Open Library data dumps site, and then run zgrep -io '"title": "Jesus, .*?"' ol_dump_works_latest.txt.gz or equivalent.

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