Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Power of a Good Title

At the moment I am reading Another Bullshit Night in Suck City by Nick Flynn, a book I was drawn to purely by its title. In fact, I knew nothing whatsoever about it except that several times in book shops my husband and I had picked it up and laughed about the title. In the end he bought it for me and it has been interesting to actually begin reading it. It turns out Another Bullshit Night in Suck City is actually a pretty interesting memoir. In it Nick Flynn describes the path that led to him meeting his father for the first time in a homeless shelter in which Flynn worked. The book is told in a fragmented kind of way, so the reader has to piece together various anecdotes, building a picture of both Nick and his father's lives.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City has made me think about the importance of the title of a book. The other book I'm reading- Jane Austen: A Life- seems to be at the other end of the spectrum: a purely functional title. Lots of my favourite novels have fairly dull or just straightforward titles: Cold Mountain, David Copperfield, Middlemarch. The only other novel I have that has appealed to me quite as much as Another Bullshit Night in Suck City purely on the basis of the title is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. I think I was more prepared to like Eggers' book because I liked the title, and I think it probably got his book more publicity.

Some other book titles that appeal to me are:
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being Milan Kundera- I like the paradox of lightness being 'unbearable'
  • Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas Tom Robbins- a nice, surreal image
  • Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell- simple but powerful
  • White Chappell Scarlet Tracings Iain Sinclair- an interesting title with lots of different resonances such as the London area, Whitechapel, the blood suggested by 'scarlet', the contrast between the colours in the title
  • A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters Julian Barnes- I like the ambition of this title, and the 1/2 chapter is amusing
  • The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Douglas Adams- a fun title that leads nicely into the idea of the book within the book
  • The Wide Sargasso Sea Jean Rhys- I'm a sucker for alliteration in a title, this one rolls off the tongue nicely, and isn't 'sargasso' a good word!
Although the title has little bearing on how good a book will be, it obviously doesn't hurt to have an interesting one. Clearly I am drawn to quirky titles, some of which border on the gimmicky and probably turn some readers off. Feel free to tell me your favourite book titles, as I'd be interested to see what appeals to other readers...


Dorothy W. said...

The most interesting title I can think of now is Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It. I actually was turned off by the title at first because it made me think it was a jokey book about how to do yoga, but now that I've read it and liked it and figured out a little more of what the title means, I find the title has won me over.

jess said...

Yes, I love that title and remember your post on the book. I will have to read it one of these days.