Wednesday June 21, 2006

No Longer Visible?

A couple of years ago, I read and enjoyed David Sacks's book Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z.  It was a fun exploration of the history of the writing systems that preceded the English 26-letter alphabet, though it was definitely aimed at a popular rather than a technical (i.e. linguistics) audience.  Recently I was browsing through the Linguistics section at my local bookstore and came across a more recent book that looked like it covered similar ground, titled Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z.  Before I bought it, though, I fortunately noticed that the cover design of Letter Perfect was suspiciously similar to that of Language Visible.  It turns out they're the same book, which has been mysteriously retitled for the paperback edition.

What's up with that?  Do publishers retitle books like this all the time and I've never noticed it?  It seems like a bit of a deceptive practice.

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Weird...I have a book at home called Language Seen: Retelling the Glorious Story of the Alphabet from A to Z. (not really)

Posted by: polyglot conspiracy at Jun 21, 2006 9:06:18 AM

Well, I bought Michael Quinion's Ballyhoo, Buckaroo and Spuds under the title Port Out, Starboard Home. The latter is the official title for the UK edition, the first for the US. You be the judge.

Posted by: Chris W. at Jun 21, 2006 11:45:58 AM

There is quite a history of renaming books for the US market. Perhaps most famously of late, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, but back in the day virtually all Agatha Christie's books got new names, and just recently Donna Leon's The Anonymous Venetian became Dressed for Death... In fact, Mark Ridley's Mendel's Demon was renamed for the US, probably looking to play of Dawkins' book, The Cooperative Gene...

In short, yes. It happens a lot, way too often, and you just have to be carefuly because you can't always get your money back!

Posted by: the Ridger at Jun 21, 2006 12:20:11 PM

I'm currently reading a fantasy series and halfway through the books have different titles from the original Australian release.

Posted by: EFL Geek at Jun 21, 2006 3:50:10 PM

I guess it's not uncommon for books to be retitled when they're published in different countries (e.g. that Sorcerer's Stone business), but in this case a U.S. hardcover book was retitled for its U.S. paperback edition.

Posted by: The Tensor at Jun 21, 2006 4:34:01 PM

Funny -- I too read and enjoyed Language Visible a few years ago and, last year, was likewise surprised to discover the book re-packaged under a new title. However, I noticed it on a shelf at Blackwell in Oxford, so maybe there is some truth to the US/UK title change? (I'm afraid I can't remember the British title.) Though, it still wouldn't make sense to publish a book in the US under one title, publish it in the UK under another, and then re-publish it back in the US again under the British title...

Posted by: Laurel at Jun 21, 2006 9:53:00 PM