Plato’s Hammer, Balzac’s Omelette, Dostoevsky’s Saucepan: Bet You Can’t Guess The Real Title

Slate's Culture Blog
Oct. 18 2011 3:06 PM

Camus’ Knifepen, Balzac’s Omelette, Nietzsche’s Duvet: Bet You Can’t Guess The Real Title

Jacket art for Balzac's Omelette

Last week Balzac’s Omelette became the latest title to join in a not-so-proud tradition, the same tradition that Freud’s Couch, Scott’s Buttocks, Brontë’s Grave will join upon its release next week.

Which isn’t to say the AuthorName’s EverydayObject formula is without its pleasures. There’s something satisfying about holding up the immortal name of one of our great authors and thinkers (only the last name will be necessary, thank you very much), and then flinging it back down to earth with “yo-yo,” “parrot,” or “soup.” It’s become a cliché—and it works every time.

In the quiz below, you will be given three book titles: One is real, the other two are randomly generated and imaginary (at least for now). Our challenge to you: Choose the real title. Nietzsche’s Kittens, Hemingway’s Boat, or Orwell’s Stamps? Nabokov’s Butterflies, Wittgenstein’s Hammer, or Conrad’s Stationery?

To narrow things down, we selected only books that use the names of authors. Thus, Beethoven’s Hair and Hamlet’s BlackBerry don’t qualify. Hemingway’s Whiskey doesn’t qualify because it’s an album (and a song). Kafka’s Motorbike would work—if it existed outside the fictional world of Bridget Jones’s Diary.

If there’s an urtext for this titling trope, it might be Flaubert’s Parrot, the prize-winning 1984 novel by Julian Barnes. Perhaps, in its honor, we can give the trope a name of its own: “Barnes’s Old Chestnut.”

Forrest Wickman is a Slate staff writer. Email him at Forrest.Wickman@slate.com.