T is for Title

For a long time now I’ve gone to bed early

For a long time now I’ve been writing “title shot” in the back of every book I read, along with a/the page number. Most, anyway. All it means is that this (page) is the first time the title of the book appears in the book itself. Just something I’ve been tracking for years and years, with the idea of going back someday, synthesing all the ratios (“if a title’s to appear in a book, it’s usually not before the seventy-fifth page,” etc). But I’ve got just thousands of books, and I’m always lending them out and forgetting where they are, so my data set here’s hopelessly jumbled, and I’d rather write stories than run numbers anyway. And, I mean, breaking a book down to numbers is pretty foolish too. Really, growing up I just played a lot of that Glass-Jawed-Joe boxing game on my old Atari or whatever, and would always get caught up against the ropes, the announcer saying over and over again, “Body blow! Body blow!” So now I scribble my book-version of that in the back of whatever I’m reading.

As to why I’m all title-focused right now, it’s because I’m second-guessing myself pretty hard about whether the title I have for the novel I’m writing right now is good or not. I mean, could be I’m just romantically attached to it. It’s happened before. For a long time I’ve been trying to name every second thing I write “Beating on the Gates of Heaven,” which none of the people who read my stuff ever tolerate for even a page. As to where that comes from, I can kind of hear Pat Benatar saying it, so would guess she’s involved somehow.

But no — like there’s a clamor — I’m not saying the title yet, trying it out or anything. Just because I’m ridiculously superstitious about that kind of stuff. Or, I mean, really, once I’ve said a title aloud, I feel this weird and stupid loyalty, like I’m ‘compelled’ to never change, else whoever knows what the title used to be will think I was wishy-washy on it, which is to say I’m undecided about the whole novel itself.

That’s one way to cast paranoid tendencies anyway.

I keep not doing what I meant to do here, though, which is just do my rudimentary, hopeless incomplete and tremendously prejudiced1 Linnean shuffle across the title landscape. Offer my brief and line-bred taxonomy, as it were.

Except I just now remember where my interest in titles comes from, aside from, y’know, that I use them all the time. It’s Thom Jones. In some BEST AMERICAN SHORT STORIES (mid nineties, I’d guess), about his story “Cold Snap,” which is maybe the lead story (?), he says that he and his agent or somebody just kind of dartboarded that title. And that seemed just so completely wrong to me, not to mention unfair (ie, he was in BASS, not me). Especially from the guy who out-titled everybody, with THE PUGILIST AT REST.

And of course my real motivations, I suppose: yes, I want the best title for the book I’m writing right now, but ‘best’ in the marketplace today keeps getting bumped up and up. Not saying all the good titles are getting used up, burned on bad stories, any of that — not saying a few aren’t, either — but, I mean, the chocolate & peanut butter ‘draw’ of this year’s breakaway title, SNAKES ON A PLANE. How to follow that? I mean, WOMEN IN PRISON is the only title I can think of that’s even in the same “Dracula meets Frankenstein”-league. And it’s an easy title to spoof (“Zombies on a Train,” “Dogs on a Bus,” etc)2, of course, but a nearly impossible one to duplicate. Run a program that combines unrelated fears, maybe,3 or go wider even, to ‘desires’ or . . . I don’t know what. Obviously. And I’m not talking cheap-o/fun titles like STEAL THIS BOOK or BULLSH*T — the bookshelf equivalent of those classified ads that say “SEX . . . now that I’ve got your attention.” I’m talking titles that last, that do for the work what MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL did for MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL. And maybe what makes them last. And how they work, even, or if it’s just magic and we shouldn’t think about it too much.

Anyway, it’s too late for me not to think about it. And I’m not guaranteeing that what follows here’ll even resemble thinking, all that much. More like somebody held my head over a clean white bedsheet and combed all the titles out of my hair, then folded that sheet down to 8 X 11, tried to put enough bullets in that it might look intentional:

  • The most persistent type of title is that trick where two unlikely words are pushed together. What catches your eye, I think, is how they jangle against each yet (of course) somehow manage to mean more than just the sum of their definitions. Like with all titles, it’s easier just to give examples than it is to explain the dynamic or mode or whatever:

    • STEEL MAGNOLIAS
    • TINY GIANTS
    • NAKED LUNCH
    • THE SUICIDE KINGS
    • PALE FIRE
    • MOTHER NIGHT
    • CINDERELLA SKELETON
    • DHARMA BUMS
    • THE PERFECT STORM
    • THE STONE RAFT
    • JESUS’ SON
    • AMERICAN GODS
    • THE CLOUD ATLAS
    • INVISIBLE MONSTERS
    • THE VIRGIN SUICIDES
    • LONESOME DOVE
    • SOUL RESIN
    • “The Long Halloween”
    • MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN
    • THE HOLY SINNER

    Think? Is there something common there? Feels like it to me. I mean, look on your own shelves, they just kind of hop out at you, until, say ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE presents itself as a sub-group (one which adds a conjunction between the two jangly terms), and then you’re gone, sketching some big, complicated thing, not unlike this.

    Also — though if you try to track dates then this makes no sense at all — there’s a type of title which is almost like all these (above) but not quite: MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN. Not that it’s singular, that there’s no more like it, but I can’t think of anymore. Single like I have it, though, we can use it like a hinge if we want, to swing us over to what feels like not so much a logical extension of the ‘paired/incronguent terms’-type of title above, but an inevitable result of our attraction to those type of titles — what Chabon was already making fun of in WONDER BOYS: “THE PROFESSION’S RELATION.” For Chabon it was “ARSONIST’S DAUGHTER,” of course, but good grief, there’s THE PILOT’S WIFE, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, THE MEMORY KEEPER’S DAUGHTER, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW, and on and on and on. An ugly trend if you ask me. As to where it comes from, sure, it’s got the form of “the cat’s meow,” but really, it’s that jangly disjunction of terms which starts it all I think. I mean, what is “ARSONIST’S DAUGHTER” if not a less jokey “THE ORPHAN’S MOM,” right? Or, to stick to stuff people really say, or at least used to say, “the Pope’s nephews.” (euphemism for the ‘celibate’ popes of yore’s sometimes-flock of children). Maybe the low point of all this will be when somebody publishes a full-length novel called simply “THE DOG’S OWNER.” I’d probably buy it.

  • My personal favorite kind of titles are those that ‘work’ within the novel. Like, when you see it right at the very very end, it surprises you, because you’ve probably forgotten the book was even called that. But then the title doesn’t just matter, it freaking matters. The only three books I can think of right now that do this and do it perfectly are:

    • ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE
    • THE CRYING OF LOT 49
    • I AM LEGEND

    And, I guess, technically, Elmo’s THERE’S A MONSTER AT THE END OF THIS BOOK does some version of this as well, but I don’t talk about Elmo in public forums anymore.

  • The title-type that’s most built-to-fail, I think — meaning that when it works, it’s perfect — is the thematic type. Which I don’t think needs me to muck it up:

    • DELIVERANCE
    • THE AWAKENING
    • POSSESSION
    • ERASURE
    • CRIME AND PUNISHMENT

    They don’t just have to be one worders either. Like, I’d say THE INVISIBLE MAN would count here, yeah? Maybe GOING NATIVE as well. Though if we get as far away as CEREMONY, which is both thematic and spot-on what’s going on in the book, content-wise, then we’ve gone too far, I think.

  • Another fun kind of title, I think, is the one that’s something we hear all the time. Just, put on the cover of a book, it’s suddenly cool:

    • ONE FLEW OVER CUCKOO’S NEST
    • PRESUMED INNOCENT
    • BRAVE NEW WORLD (though, yeah, maybe this book made this ‘common’)
    • BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
    • ALONG CAME A SPIDER

    Which, I mean, the trick here is just having a good ear — plucking from conversation what would sound cool. I mean, those ‘jangly pairs of terms’ up above, it’s conceivable that a computer could push one of those out for every ten thousand bad ones. These, though, culled just from talk and everywhere, I don’t know: how to cull’s the trick. And I can’t think of any way to do that but just to do it, to have that aptitude, that kind of ear.

    Also, these are the type titles that always make you sick, because they’re something you could have thought of. Except you didn’t.

    (“A Good Man is Hard to Find”? That’d make a good title, yeah? Maybe even one of the best ones ever. Fifty years ago)

  • This next kind of title, I can only think of two examples, but there’s got to be more. Just because writers are clever. Sometimes so clever it works against them, even. But these kind, that can be read two ways, depending upon emphasis, they’re cool:

    • PARASITES LIKE US
    • INDIAN KILLER

    And yeah, I’d guess there are a lot out there that work like this on accident, of course. These two, however, they seem intentional to me — part of the telling.

  • Titles that are chosen to keep a book in a series, to ‘brand’ it as yet another, ‘like last time,’ they kind of crack me up:

    • from James Patterson’s “Women’s Murder Club,” say:
      • 1ST TO DIE
      • 2ND CHANCE
      • 3RD DEGREE
      • 4TH OF JULY
      • 5TH HORSEMEN
      • 6TH NANNY
    • And, until this year, his Alex cross series got a similar treatment — series branding via what I was talking about above, with ‘everyday expressions.’ He just sticks to a theme:
      • ALONG CAME A SPIDER
      • KISS THE GIRLS
      • JACK AND JILL
      • CAT AND MOUSE
      • POP! GOES THE WEASEL
      • ROSES ARE RED
      • VIOLETS ARE BLUE
      • FOUR BLIND MICE
      • THE BIG BAD WOLF
      • LONDON BRIDGES
      • MARY MARY
    • Then there’s Sue Grafton, who takes it to even higher pitch, so that it starts to feel like I’m reading a Bad New Bears learn-to-read thing:
      • A IS FOR ALIBI
      • B IS FOR BURGLAR
      • C IS FOR CORPSE
      • D IS FOR DEADBEAT
      • E IS FOR EVIDENCE
      • F IS FOR FUGITIVE
      • G IS FOR GUMSHOE
      • H IS FOR HOMICIDE
      • I IS FOR INNOCENT
      • J IS FOR JUDGEMENT
      • K IS FOR KILLER
      • L IS FOR LAWLESS
      • M IS FOR MALICE
      • N IS FOR NOOSE
      • O IS FOR OUTLAW
      • P IS FOR PERIL
      • Q IS FOR QUARRY
      • R IS FOR RICOCHET
      • S IS FOR SILENCE
    • Then there’s a different kind of branding, like Bentley Little’s got going on (disregarding GUESTS, DISPATCH, and DOMINION):
      • THE REVELATION
      • THE MAILMAN
      • THE SUMMONING
      • THE NIGHT SCHOOL
      • THE STORE
      • THE HOUSE
      • THE IGNORED
      • THE TOWN
      • THE WALKING
      • THE ASSOCIATION
      • THE RETURN
      • THE POLICY
      • THE RESORT
      • THE BURNING

    And yeah, of course, there’s more and more and more of these series, but already my pinky’s about broke from holding the shift key down to uppercase all these titles. But you get the idea.

  • This next one I like to call the “of the” club. Very cool stuff:

    • THE ISLAND OF THE DAY BEFORE
    • THE COLONY OF UNREQUITED DREAMS
    • THE LAND OF MEN
    • “The Garden of Forking Paths” (though translation may have chewed it some?)
    • THE ICE AT THE BOTTOM OF THE WORLD

    As to where these come from, I’d suspect Swift, I guess: “A Voyage to the Country of the Houyhnhnms” (though too, there may some rhythmic infection from “The Fall of the House of Usher”). Because a big part of the appeal with all these titles is the suggestion that the places these books go, man, they’re seriously exotic, right? “UNREQUITED DREAMS?” I mean, it’s like going to The Island of Lost Toys or something. Maybe even better (if you get out as far as the “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” however, you may have gone too far. I’m not sure why that is, either).

    And yeah, NAME OF THE ROSE isn’t so dissimilar, but isn’t so much a place either, I don’t think. Maybe its own category even, though I can’t think of any more like it.

  • Made-up words as titles are a blast too, though, as they’re hardly recognizable even as words at first, it’s a gamble:

    • THE INTUITIONIST
    • RESURRECTIONISTS
    • SELLAVISION
    • NEUROMANCER

    I guess the rule of thumb is, if you feel like you shuold be putting quotation marks around it, to ‘escape’ it from the kind of filter we run all the other words through, then maybe what you’ve got’s a title in this category.

  • One kind of title I’m forever a fool for is the trailing-off long one, sometimes with subtitle, sometimes without:

    • PLANE GEOMETERY AND OTHER AFFAIRS OF THE HEART
    • LORD OF THE BARNYARD: KILLING THE FATTED CALF AND ARMING THE AWARE IN THE CORNBELT
    • THE UNIVERSAL BASEBALL ASSOCIATION, INC., J. HENRY WAUGH, PROP.

    And of course the champion in this category would be IF ON A WINTERS NIGHT A TRAVELER…, as it it literally has those ellipses at the end, instead of just letting us ‘hear’ them, as SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION does, though if it’s all about length, then either of these would make the cut:

    • THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES!!?
    • NIGHT OF THE DAY OF THE DAWN OF THE SON OF THE BRIDE OF THE RETURN OF THE REVENGE OF THE TERROR OF THE ATTACK OF THE EVIL, MUTANT, HELLBOUND, FLESH-EATING SUBHUMANOID ZOMBIFIED LIVING DEAD

    There are shorter, more effective titles than these, however (not saying anything bad about zombies, of course):

    • WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT LOVE
    • BEEN DOWN SO LONG, IT LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME
    • “Where are You Going, Where Have You Been”
    • COWBOYS HAVE ALWAYS BEEN MY WEAKNESS
  • A popular kind, which maybe comes from how all novels used to be “THE LIFE OF ALPHA BETTY” / “THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF CID DAY” / “THE MEMOIRS OF EZEKIEL FRANK,” is all the works of fiction that pretend to be something else:

    • GIRLS GUIDE TO HUNTING AND FISHING
    • DICTIONARY OF THE KHAZARS
    • THE BLUE GUIDE TO INDIANA
    • DICTIONARY OF MODERN ANGUISH

    And on and on, leading finally, maybe, to all these, which I’ll just sample, as I couldn’t even begin to be comprehensive:

    • HANDMAIDEN’S TALE
    • THE EXTINCTION JOURNALS
    • “Diary of a Madman”
    • THIEF’S JOURNAL
    • THE NANNY DIARIES
    • THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES

    Those three words — ‘journal,’ ‘tale,’ ‘diary’ — they must make editors just very happy or something. And I’d suspect that NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND might belong here as well, though ‘notes’ isn’t as common. Neither is ‘chronicles,’ I suppose (maybe it sounds too much like a newspaper? a norse saga?), but THE WIND-UP BIRD CHRONICLE’s trying to bring it back . . .

  • Supershort titles crack me up:

    • V.
    • O
    • GO
    • OH!
    • PIG
    • FUP

    Wouldn’t be that difficult to make a sentence out of these, really. Yet another worthwhile activity to put on my to-do list, I suppose.

  • Usually names-as-titles are like glue, I think: they keep that book right there on the shelf. I mean, who wants to read about some “JON Q. NOBODY,’ right? Even names I know and love, like Curtis Lowe or Clayton Delaney, they’re still probably not going to get me to pull a novel off the shelf.This isn’t to say that a lot of our best novels haven’t been just boring names either, though:

    • DON QUIXOTE
    • MADAME BOVARY
    • CANDIDE
    • ANNA KARENINA
    • JUBAL SACKETT
    • NADJA

    There’s nothing intrinsic to those titles that draws me to the book, though. I mean, if you’ve got to use a name, I say mix it up, like this:

    • THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV
    • THE BOOK OF DANIEL
    • THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON

    That’s not to say a title like “LOLITA” can sit long on the shelf without getting all pawed-up, though. Yeah, some names are cool. But “Martin Dressler?” C’mon.

    And next up after proper names as titles would be all the “occupation” titles, I think, with some “Millers” or “Coopers” or “Arrowsmiths” to bridge the gap for us. But I’m not listing occupation titles here. Just because they’re freaking legion (THE COLLECTOR, THE AERIALIST, THE ALIENIST, TAXI DRIVER, etc etc etc leading up to the less paycheck-oriented MOVIEGOERs and FIXERs &etc).

    However, one step past the simple occupation title, is the title of an “occupation” which isn’t really: FIRESTARTER, THE THIEF OF ALWAYS, THE IDIOT. Those are perfect, I think. But, to get back to where this starts, names: it all comes down to whether a book titled “ADA” has more appeal, or something called, say, “FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!” Or, to keep it to a single author (ie, to ban Russ Myers), THE MAGUS or DANIEL MARTIN? Which sounds more promising? It’s hardly even a choice for me. But maybe that’s just me.

  • Sometimes the best titles, too, they’re simply the most obvious. On-point, unthematic, not distracting. I mean, they almost become elegant, then:

    • JAWS
    • FIGHT CLUB
    • THE TRIAL
    • MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

    And the list here, like with occupations, just goes on and on, though these titles tend to be a lot more rememberable, I think. They stick in your head, come out your mouth, and bam, somebody else knows about your book (movie, etc) now.

  • This category’s the most fun, I think. Zany, crazy titles that you wholly unable to resist picking up the book:

    • ILLYWHACKER
    • WHOMPYJAWED
    • EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES
    • THE HOLLOW CHOCOLATE BUNNIES OF THE APOCALYPSE
    • CIVILWARLAND IN BAD DECLINE
    • THE GARBAGEMAN AND THE PROSTITUTE
    • EVERYDAY PSYCHOKILLERS
    • TRIPMASTER MONKEY
    • THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO FISTFIGHT IN HEAVEN
    • BUST DOWN THE DOOR AND EAT ALL THE CHICKENS
    • ZANESVILLE
    • LONESONE STANDARD TIME
    • THE TOWN THAT FORGOT HOW TO BREATHE
    • YELLOW BACK RADIO BROKE DOWN
    • OVERNIGHT TO MANY DISTANT CITIESAs to how to generate those, or as to how they work: who knows. Except they’re beautiful. Not always rememberable, but still excellent.
  • And you’ve noticed by now I’ve been interleaving movie titles in here, yeah? A few more I think excellent enough to list:

    • THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE
    • MAN BITES DOG
    • SEX, LIES & VIDEOTAPE
    • DEATH AND THE MAIDEN
    • THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT
    • NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD

    I’m sure there’s more too, but that’s a whole nother can of something, which I don’t think I have enough bulletpoints for.

    And, talking other cans, music’s even more dangerous, I think, as it’s a lot closer to poetry, so the song titles and album names tend to be lifts from lines which have some intentional rhythm, so they’re catchy, they work:

    • “When the Doves Cry”
    • “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
    • “House of the Rising Sun”
    • “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia”

    To keep it under five. And, talking album titles, I’m convinced that the best one ever is APPETITE FOR DESTRUCTION, and to list any more beside it would just make them look weak (the only contender here, for me, would be THEATRE OF PAIN. But still, it’s no APPETITE.4)

  • And yeah, there’s leftovers. I can’t figure out where to put THE THINGS THEY CARRIED, if anywhere. And, while CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES could go above, with the BRAVE NEW WORLD set, it doesn’t feel the same. And SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE? No clue. Just that it’s beautiful, and permanent. And then Harlan Ellison’s always good for a title too — “I Have No Mouth But I Must Scream” — but his don’t categorize easy either, I don’t think. Which is probably a good thing.

  • And, finally, my own favorites list, which you could sprinkle through about half of these categories, I think — all if you use that “remainder” box, of course.

    • TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY
    • THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY
    • OF TIME AND THE RIVER
    • A STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
    • INVITATION TO A BEHEADING
    • THE SOT-WEED FACTOR
    • THINGS FALL APART
    • THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD
    • THE CONTORTIONIST’S HANDBOOK
    • WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
    • LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA
    • HOUSE OF LEAVES
    • TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
    • THE GRAPES OF WRAITH
    • DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS
    • BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA
    • WE HAVE ALWAYS LIVED IN THE CASTLE
    • ALL THE PRETTY HORSES
    • STEPPENWOLF
    • WINTER IN THE BLOOD
    • THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS
    • THE TIME IT NEVER RAINED
    • THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER
    • THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER
    • CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD
    • THE LAST PICTURE SHOW
    • STARS IN MY POCKET LIKE GRAINS OF SAND
    • EATERS OF THE DEAD
    • WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS
    • THE GREAT AND SECRET SHOW
    • THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBEAnd yeah, this whole write-up here, it started with this list. Which was supposed to just be ten long. But, like the book says, things fall apart . . .
  • As for the last category, yeah, that one title which I think is the premiere title of all the books ever written, so far:

    • THE LORD OF THE FLIES

    When you debut with something like that, it’s called a career, I think.

    And the runner-up, if we can have runners-up, that’d be FAHRENHEIT 451.

And, I guess, were I giving an award for the most-riffed title ever, that’d probably be PORTAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN (it’s the ‘the’ that’s magic there, I think — it suggests a distance which makes us lean forward, into those pages), though there’s about a thousand or so “BOOK OF _______”-tricks on the shelves, it seems, all of which I guess just branch right off the gospels.

Talking more generally, though, lots of people say that titles are the hardest part of writing fiction. As support for that, you could probably cite the CATCH-22 legend: that it was almost “CATCH-23” or something, until the publisher had a last-minute, in-house contest, and some nobody thought “22” sounded cool, so won a free meal or something. I don’t know. That does make titles seem pretty random, though — a lot more luck-driven than we like to think. And in the face of that, sure, it’s easy to think ‘why try?’ I mean, it doesn’t really seem fair that the poets get to number their poems if they want, while stories always have to have a title. And songs, we can always do like Dylan did, and just name the song some wholly or almost-wholly unrelated thing. Which can work, and, too, is pretty much what Thom Jones did with that “Cold Snap” story, I suppose (though he picked a boring, boring title).

I don’t think titles are hard work, though. Impossible, yeah, especially when so many good ones have been burned already, but ‘difficult’ for me implies a struggle, like you have to craft your way through to the good title. And that’s not the case here. Whenever you find a good title, then that’s exactly what you do: find it. Trip over it in some book, over some punchbowl, on a sign, in the way you mis-hear some lyrics or mis-spell a word or a hundred other things. But it’s not hard to trip. The only ‘hard’ part is being always tuned-in, I think. Always receptive, always looking, always listening, and always always always having a pen handy, and a patch of skin not already covered with ink.

But there’s another discussion too with titles: is the perfect one one that perfectly ‘caps’ your book, or does your book get read through the ‘filter’ of your title, or is the title just a marketing gimmick, designed to catch your attention in a crowded marketplace, burn it into your consumer’s memory? Or, I mean, is the title its own little self-contained story, that you read in passing, and say, man, I kind of trust this writer. If they can do this in three or six words, I wonder what they could do with a hundred or so thousand? Or, along the same lines, do you scan a title and say “‘naked,’ plus ‘lunch?’ Jesus had a son? Invisible monsters?!” and then have no choice but to crack those pages open, solve that initial mystery, that question the title makes you ask.

I don’t know. What this whole long thing comes down to, I suppose. I mean, even the title for this, it was initially “Title Shot, Title Shot,” but then, a few paragraphs in, I thought “T is for Title” was just so much cooler: unvague, mystery-containing, maybe funny in that it’s related to a list way in the middle; and last, it has a rhythm we all know from kidhood, so maybe activates a little mild deja vu or something. How could it miss with all that going for it, right? But, did it? Did you read this all because of it, or in spite of it?

I don’t know. In Harlan Ellison’s short story “The Man Who Rowed Christopher Columbus Ashore,” the last line of it is “This has been a story called Shagging Fungoes,” when, indeed, it’s actually a story called “The Man Who Rowed Christoper Columbus Ashore.” You can look in the table of contents and see. But maybe what he’s saying, really, is that we don’t know what titles are, or how they work. But stuff like ‘fungoes,’ man. Some stuff it’s just cool to say, or, in writing, to say it with letters bigger than all the other letters. So, in honor:

This Has Been an Inquiry Titled ‘YES, I KNOW YOU ITALICIZE TITLES’

©Stephen Graham Jones, 2006

 

1 my prejudices here have been: horror; ai lit; multi-word titles; marquez; no plays, really; no poetry; hair metal (always). so hate me if you need to. or, better yet, counter with your own list/titles. please. I’ll try to suck them up into the post, maybe. or at the very least link your own list, so other people can ramp off into it.

2 nabbed from bboards somewhere or another . . .

3 or just look up that excellent Gary Larson panel, the one where some doctor is using a ‘revolutionary’ new therapy to simultaneously cure a patient’s fears of the dark, snake, and heights.

4 (see footnote 1, yeah; I am what I am)


* and, if you want to let the machine make your title, read this, then follow the link at the bottom: Sure-Fire Novel Title.

** yep, made it through this whole long thing without intoning “ULYSSES” even once, and only hit Proust obliquely. makes me feel like a winner for some reason.

*** and yeah, should I ever find the time, I’ll try to rig something like this together about epigraphs, which need a discussion. And hook-lines too, which are just super-important, and work kind of in conjunction with the title, like a one-two punch (to bring it all back to Glass-Jawed-Joe). As for Revision, though, I have done that at least, over at the Cult, here. Genre too, but that one‘s still very incomplete. Or, I’ve rethought it all since then — ie, I’ve read LETTERS TO A YOUNG NOVELIST, and have some better stuff to say now, maybe.

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