Don’t Mess with the Titles

Philadelphia Inquirer critic Carlin Romano praises the book Metropolitan Philadelphia: Living with the Presence of the Past by Steven Conn.

"Incisive, quirky, wry and boosterish without pulling appropriate punches, Metropolitan Philadelphia
combines the droll piecemeal observations of excellent cultural
journalism (William Penn became ‘simultaneously the city’s founder and
its first suburbanite’) with a synoptic view of local identity that
recalls Digby Baltzell’s Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia."

It’s the book’s title, and most of the titles in our Metropolitan Portraits series, that he could do without.

Romano writes, "Memo to Penn Press: Drop the standardized titles. If Metropolitan Detroit sits cooking as we speak, make the subtitle Don’t Mess With Motown,
then kill the title."

But what would scholarly publications be without the colons and qualifiers that let researchers know in detail what academic books and articles are about even before they read the abstract? For those who dislike "the whiff of statistics, tables and graphs," such titles certainly have an "off-putting sound."

Perhaps Penn Press should take the advice in this mini memo to heart and rename some of the books in our Metropolitan Portraits series.

Possible title changes:

Greater Boston: Adapting Regional Tradition to the Present to Wicked Beantown

Greater Portland: Urban Life and Landscape in the Pacific Northwest to Northwest But Not Seattle

Metropolitan Phoenix: Place Making and Community Building in the Desert to This Place Is Hot!

Metropolitan San Diego: How Geography and Lifestyle Shape a New Urban Environment  to Metropolitan San Diego: How Cool Was It That They Filmed Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy There?

Perhaps not. For now, we won’t mess with the titles.

If you happen to be in Philly (and you don’t plan on messing with us) on Thursday, August 17th, stop by Bindlestiff Books at 4530 Baltimore Avenue to hear Steven Conn read from Metropolitan Philadelphia. The event begins at 7 p.m. For details, email

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