In "Twenty-Two Titles Tell a Tale," Ong paints a picture of readers of twentieth-century literary fiction as people who believe they are not sentimentalists (like readers of eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels or consumers of twentieth-century popular fiction were). Once Ong establishes this scenario, he argues that in fact, twentieth-century readers of literary fiction are as sentimental as anyone else, an argument he supports with an informal, light-hearted analysis of new book titles from an unidentified magazine with "cultural appeal."
In the twenty-two book titles gleaned from this unidentified magazine, Ong reveals a predominant rhythmic pattern which translates very easily into what might be characterized as sentimental poetic verse (akin to the writing of Swinburne), and Ong even forms poems from these titles to make his point. Then, he attributes the use of "pretty titles," which sound as though they are lifted from the most philosophical passage of the novel, to the literary world's keen interest in profits. The tendency to use "pretty titles" to sell books, Ong concludes, is a sign that the twentieth century is not, perhaps, as "virile" as most assume.
Ong's conclusion about the concern over virility in the twentieth century
seems, to the contemporary reader, especially revealing of the time in
which the article was written: at the beginning of the Second World
War. And looking at the articles Ong wrote for America as
a whole, these early writings reflect Ong's interest in cultural identity,
particularly what it meant to be American in the 1940s.