Choosing a title is my favourite part of a lot of things. Sometimes I think I’d like to have children just to bestow awesome names on people. Still, it’s not an easy task, even for someone who’s into snap decisions.
Sometimes, I get the title first and I have to work to live up to it for the sake of a my poetic genius. Other times, no matter how great I think my story is, the title is limp and simply a result of having to refer to it in one way or another.
A title may have no bearing on the quality of a story, but man, when I have a great book with a correspondingly heavy title, it adds an extra narrative to my subconscious life. It becomes the song stuck in my head. For example, when I was reading, Wuthering Heights, I repeated the title over and over in my mind all the time—while I walked down the street, as I dropped boxes of cereal into my cart at the market, even right before I went to bed. In that case, it was to the tune of Kate Bush’s Gothic-pop song, which is a bonus. I was 19 years old when I read Diamond Age: Or, A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer, and I carried that book around like a shield; its title running like ticker tape through inside my eyelids. I often thought I might float away while reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
I happen to have a few books on my shelf that are downright awful, but I keep them because this is what they are called:
- Flying Death Tales to Tremble By
- The Way of All Flesh
- For Whom the Bell Tolls (I try and I try but I cannot read this book)
Gorgeous. Terrible. Fantastic titles that I can’t bring myself to give away—even if they don’t live up to the drama they’re selling (yes, For Whom the Bell Tolls is very dramatic, I heard).
Titles, of course, aren’t everything. Most of my favourite books have less than life-changing titles: The Secret History, The Gunslinger, The Old Man and the Sea, Ender’s Game, The Little Friend, The Goldfinch, Gloria, Jude the Obscure, Slaughterhouse Five, and so on. It’s just fancy, like whip cream on your cheesecake.
But, when a title’s bad, it’s embarrassing. Once, I was on a plane and I happened to be reading French Women Don’t Get Fat, right beside a woman who obviously struggled with her health that way. I was mortified, but that was actually a pretty good book.
I also read Twilight and was embarrassed to have that in public, but I think that was less about the title and more because I was worried that people could sense the kind of drivel I was pouring into my head. Barf. Oh, I hated it so much.
Some books titles, however, harsh over-promise. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius is, I would argue, a heartbreaking work of regular genius and it was probably a bad idea to set the bar so high, but I bet it was the main reason that book took off. Also, every book that Douglas Adams ever wrote is an homage to his ability to think up new and interesting ways of saying funny things and I can appreciate that but, I could only read one of them.
The Fault in Our Stars, I think, was a bit of an over-sell, not because it wasn’t a great book, but because I had to learn the excruciatingly hard way that it had absolutely nothing to do with space.
But, listen: The Unbearable Lightness of Being, The Things They Carried, Breakfast of Champions, Something Wicked This Way Comes, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Love in the Time of Cholera (GG Marquez kills it practically every time), The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Requiem for A Dream (okay, so this is a little 90’s emo, but I come by that honestly), Much Ado about Nothing, Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates.
There are so many more. I want to know all of them. So, tell me: What are your favourite titles?