I’d planned to do a roundup of books with identical titles, just to show you that copyright law doesn’t protect a title. (Some titles are protected by trademark, though. Consider the For Dummies and Chicken Soup for the Soul series.) I had Word by Word by Kory Stamper (2018) and Word by Word by Anne Lamott (2004); Great Expectations (1980) by Landon Y. Jones—popularizer of “Baby Boom”—and Great Expectations by that British guy (1861). The contemporary American author Elif Batuman has built her publishing career on titles intentionally borrowed from Dostoevsky: The Idiot, The Possessed
Next on my list was Last Call, the title of a true-crime book by Elon Green, published in March 2021, about a serial killer who preyed on gay men in 1990s New York.
And also the title of Daniel Okrent’s 2010 history of Prohibition.
But that turned out not to be the last word on books titled Last Call. Far from it.
Here’s what I discovered.
Last Call: Bartenders on Their Final Drink and the Wisdom and Rituals of Closing Time, by Brad Thomas Parsons (2019).
Last Call, a novel by Staci Hart (2016)
Last Call, a romance novella by Alice Clayton (2015). It’s the fifth in a series with cocktail-related titles (Wallbanger, Mai Tai’d Up, etc.).
Last Call, by Tim Staples (2009), an audiobook about “the Catholic teaching on death judgment heaven hell.”
Last Call, a thriller by James Grippando, which is a great name for a thriller-writer, by the way (2007).
Last Call, a novel by Tim Powers (1992)
And coming in September 2021, a new Last Call with a complicated title (a colon and a dash!) and authorship (five in total, one of them a pseudonym, plus an illustrator).
Richard Stark’s Parker: The Martini Edition—Last Call is, according to publisher Penguin Random House, “the long-awaited companion to the Award-winning Martini Edition … collecting The Score and Slayground in a beautiful oversized slipcase edition”:
Features more than 100 pieces of never-before-seen Parker art by Darwyn Cooke; a round table talk with Ed Brubaker, Sean Phillips, Bruce Timm, and Scott Dunbier on Parker and Cooke; and a brand-new 17-page story by multiple Eisner Award-winning creators Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Darwyn Cooke crafted four universally acclaimed Parker graphic novels, adapted from the works of Richard Stark (A pseudonym for Donald Westlake), before his untimely death. This volume will be (along with the Martini Edition) the last word on Cooke’s brilliant Parker stories.
I confess to knowing nothing about Darwyn Cooke or Parker, but I’m a big fan of Donald Westlake’s comic novels, so I get that this book will be something special. (Read my obituary for Westlake, who died in 2009.)
We probably haven’t seen the last of Last Call. Why is it such a popular title? Simplicity (two familiar four-letter words), evocativeness (barrooms, telephones, death), and the way it fits neatly and squarely on a book jacket. Speaking of book jackets, a design-school thesis could be written about the evolution of Last Call typography and layout over the last three decades, from cluttered and symbol-laden to streamlined and sans-serif, and, above all, Instagrammable. As Margot Boyer-Dry wrote for Vulture in January 2019: “If books have design eras, we’re in an age of statement wallpaper and fatty text. We have the internet to thank — and not just the interface but the economy that’s evolved around it.”