Sunday, January 15, 2012

What's In A Name?

MacEvoy has been rolling around in the elk miscarriage of literature titles as of late . . . which has caused me to do a lot of thinking. Of my favorite 25 (or so) novels, I have strong feelings when it comes to the titles. I hate them (i.e. "The Catcher in The Rye"). Or I love them (i.e. "The Angle of Repose") and wish that I had a book with just such a title.

It often befuddles me that a writer can produce a novel of such sustained prominence and genius, while completely striking out on a workable title (i.e. "All The Pretty Horses"). The tile should be the easy part, in theory, I mean it's ten words or less. But yet these "misses" do occur, as I will point out below. Keep in mind, every book on these lists is, in my mind, important and ground breaking and wonderful, in spite of its great or terrible title.

Best Books I've Ever Read with GREAT (I'm jealous) Titles:
  • The Sun Also Rises (Hemingway)
  • The Angle of Repose (Stegner)
  • The Great Gatsby (Joyce)
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls (Hemingway)
  • To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
  • East of Eden (Steinbeck)
  • Dharma Bums (Kerouac)
  • The Autumn of the Patriarch (Garcia Marquez)
  • My Name is Asher Lev (Potok)
  • Ask the Dust (Fante)
  • Chronicle of a Death Foretold (Garcia Marquez)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Kundera)
  • Blood Meridian (McCarthy)
Best Books I've Ever Read with TERRIBLE (how could such a good novel have such a shitty title) Titles:
  • Dancing At The Rascal Fair (Doig) (sounds like grocery store romance lit)
  • All The Pretty Horses (McCarthy) (sounds like lesbian cowgirl lit)
  • Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man (Joyce) (Note: I actually don't like the novel either)
  • Travels With Charlie (Steinbeck) (John thought this one up in 10 seconds, surely)
  • The House of Spirits (Allende) (sounds like a "universe" book you'd see featured on Oprah)
  • Love In The Time of Cholera (Garcia Marquez) (Can't have "love" in a title, sorry Gab).
  • Cry, The Beloved Country (Patton) (sorry MacEvoy, but this one misses the mark for me)
  • A Good Man is Hard to Find (Flannery O'Connor) (sounds like my Jewish mother-in-law)
  • The Stranger (Camus) (too bland)
  • Out Stealing Horses (Petterson) (sounds like a 12 year old wrote the title)
  • The Savage Detectives (Bolano) (After reading it, I am still unsure what the title means, so I hate it)
  • A Moveable Feast (Hemingway) (Makes me think of Thanksgiving?!)
  • Freedom (Franzen) (sounds like a George Bush speech title)
Now, keep in mind that aside from Joyce, I've LOVED each of these novels and count them as important to my development as a person and thinker. And these titles represent opposite ends of the spectrum with plenty of titles that fall in between the Great v. Terrible debate ("Don Quixote de la Mancha" and "One Hundred Years of Solitude" and "The Old Man & The Sea").

What I've gleaned from my self-made lists are that most writers find themselves on both ends of the spectrum depending on the novel. They write a stellar title for one novel, and a pitiful title for the next.

Can anyone disagree with my list(s)?

1 comment:

  1. Don't knock lesbian cowgirl lit. Some of my all-time favorite books have been lesbian cowgirl lit.

    I agree with most of your "poor title" selections, though. Disagree on Paton, Hemingway and Garcia Marquez.

    I'd always assumed that "The Savage Detectives" meant something, but not having read it, I'll take your word for it. It seems it's just as big a headscratcher as 2666.