Monday, April 28, 2014

The Importance of Titles

with good titles
Titles are important to me. I dislike titles that are hard to remember. A case in point was a book reviewed last week for FFB. DEATH AT SWAYTHILLING COURT.

Why would an author choose a name like Swaythilling for either a place or a title? Even if it's an actual place name I wouldn't use it on a book title. It's even hard to pronounce. Did the author think it unforgettable?

Sometime titles are too generic though. Or too familiar.

What title do you dislike and why? Whose titles are especially memorable?

19 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Patti - I think titles are really important too. Since I read a lot of crime fiction, I have to say I get a little tired of titles with words like Blood, Murder and Death in them unless the rest of it is really well done.

David Cranmer said...

I've found (sadly) that generic and familiar sell quite well. Hence everything these days plays off books like The Time Traveler's Wife. Or has a series number after it like Hardboiled 3! Normally, I prefer short titles like Nabokov's Despair and Bellows Hertzog.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is SWAYTHLING but I take your point. When that was written it was a more or less typical title for an English country house mystery.

It bothers me more in movies where I have to keep looking up if THE LONG KISS GOODBYE or GOODNIGHT (it's the latter) is the correct title.

I do prefer a memorable title like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES.


Jeff M.

Loren Eaton said...

James Maxey's Absolutely Brilliant in Chrome is an enviably good title.

pattinase (abbott) said...

No one will ever forget LOLITA, But perhaps that is partly because the novel is outstanding. Same with HERZOG and A CONFEDERACY.
OR GOODBYE COLUMBUS more than most of his others titles.

pattinase (abbott) said...

WOW. I don't know either the author or title, Loren Will look up.

Bernadette said...

I dislike all the generic titles that crime fiction uses - like Margot I'm tired of all the blood, murder and death - I never remember those.

I like a title that has a meaning that takes some work to figure out - and I when I think about it for me the more memorable ones are longer - almost like a natural sentence rather than two or three generic words. One of my favourites recently read was French author Philippe Georget's SUMMERTIME, ALL THE CATS ARE BORED. I also like Leif Persson's titles which do have a meaning but you have to work at it. The full meaning of LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER only becomes clear at the very end of the novel. Another of my recent favourites (book and title) is Wiley Cash's A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME. I wasn't as thrilled with the book but I've never forgotten Jason Webster's OR THE BULL KILLS YOU either. Even though it seems illogical that longer titles are easier to remember I think because the titles mean something and I always think of the whole sentence or phrase I find it easier to remember and to make the association with the actual story than the more generic titles.

That said I wouldn't recommend a title like you discuss with a word in it that doesn't immediately make sense to everyone likely to look at it.

I think some authors make mistakes when they start out with a theme for their titles - the most obvious one is Sue Grafton and her alphabet books - some of those letters are a bit dodgy and I bet even with 30 years to come up with one X is going to feel a bit forced. But the one that I think got old way before the series did is JD Robb's 'In Death' books which started to sound silly after the first few and it's impossible to distinguish any of the books from each other in your head just going by titles alone.

Al Tucher said...

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN is hard to beat. It tells you everything without giving anything away.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Nicholas Freeling had some good ones. My favorite is BECAUSE OF THE CATS.
A LAND MORE KIND THAN HOME is very hard for me to remember. Whenever I recommend it, I have to look it up. I go to sleep reciting the Grafton titles most nights so it works for me.

George said...

I detest vague titles like AWAY FROM HER. GRAVITY'S RAINBOW has always been a favorite.

pattinase (abbott) said...

MIAMI PURITY is one of the best.

Anonymous said...

Memorable titles:

If I'd Killed Him When I Met Him...
Their Eyes Were Watching God
Cast, In Order of Disappearance
You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up
The Fools in Town Are on Our Side
What We Talk About When We Talk About Love
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute


Jeff M.

Thomas Pluck said...

I think titles are very important. And they don't have to be shocking to be good.
Some recent reads with excellent titles.
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes, by Lawrence Block- title from his friend, folksinger Dave Van Ronk's song "Last Call" - is it his best novel? Could be, but that memorable title makes it seem so. I'm also fond of 8 Million Ways to Die, and that's a grabby title.

We Were the Mulvaneys, by Joyce Carol Oates. A bit more subtle, but powerful- it's not about Witness Protection, so how can you no longer be your name? She explains it in this gripping,painful novel that lives up to the mystery of its title.

A less memorable title doesn't always kill a book, but I'll agree that the single name titles are only memorable because of what's inside. For example Hollywood titles like "Jack Reacher" work after the fact, but the first Reacher novel "Killing Floor" certainly had an eyecatching title.

Richard said...

I'm so tired of books with the word Bone or Bones in the title. So overdone.
Titles I like:
BURY MY HEART AT WOUNDED KNEE
I SING THE BODY ELECTRIC
THE MOVING FINGER
AS I LAY DYING
EYELESS IN GAZA
POSTERN OF FATE
TO SAY NOTHING OF THE DOG
THE STARS, MY DESTINATION

and perhaps my favorite of all:

THE RAT BEGAN TO GNAW THE ROPE.

pattinase (abbott) said...

WHEN THE SACRED GINMILL CLOSES is one I never forget bacause it was such a great novel. Lots of great titles here. Sometimes just a name works like LAURA, REBECCA, or LOLITA. Can't think of a male title offhand.
Oates does titles pretty well. I liked DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL especially. Or BLONDE.
Faulkner was good too. Also like A LIGHT IN AUGUST.

Gerard said...

TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT. I have not read the novel. It has checked out only six times.

Cap'n Bob said...

I detest all those cutesy pun titles on cozies. Curl Up and Dye, for example.

Deb said...

About 20 years ago, we had a spate if book titles that followed the construction "The [Noun] of the [Adjective] [Different Noun]"--for example, The House of the Blue Papaya. There's an air of exoticism to those titles. I like a title that grabs me and that makes perfect sense once I've finished the book. In my teens, I would just wander the library aisles and select books based in their titles. I read many interesting books that way--not to mention a few duds.

Yvette said...

Titles I dislike usually start with The So and So's Daughter and/or Wife. Like THE WELL-DIGGER'S DAUGHTER, THE TIME-TRAVELER'S WIFE etc. I automatically will not read these books (there are so many of them!)

I don't like generic titles either. I'm with you, Patti, on hard to remember and twisty turny wordsy titles.

A Few of the Titles I do remember and like:

RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE
THE DOORBELL RANG
THE LEAGUE OF FRIGHTENED MEN
THE MAN FROM THE SEA
LIFE AFTER LIFE
THE GOLDFINCH
HIS MAJESTY'S DRAGON
THE SECRET OF CHIMNEYS
THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES
THE BEEKEEPER'S APPRENTICE
1984