Eve Tushnet posts a list of great book titles, which you ought to read, like most everything else she writes. It is surprising how scarce great titles are, once you get to thinking about it. She marks some of them “in context,” which means you have to read the book to appreciate them, and this strikes me as a bit of a cheat. A great book title, like a great wine, ought to be glorious at first and improve upon acquaintance. Still, I mostly agree — who could knock A Clockwork Orange or Pale Fire? — though she veers more toward the prolix than I might. I am mildly discomfited by the absence of Wyndham Lewis, who is responsible for probably half of the top ten book titles in English. Consider:
The Apes of God (which used to be the name of my fantasy baseball team. Not that I have a thing about omniscience.)
Revenge for Love
The Vulgar Streak
The Doom of Youth
Men Without Art
The Art of Being Ruled (The last three are non-fiction, so they may not be official, but I mean, come on.)
Lewis, I note impartially, can also lay claim to possibly the worst title ever, The Jews, Are They Human? His answer, incidentally, was yes.
(Update: Eve has more, noting that she meant “in context” as meaning only that you know a bit about the book, actually reading it not being necessary. So there turn out to be three categories of great titles. Hey, I’m not false dilemma for nothing!
(She also wonders if there’s a philosophy of titling. I doubt it. I looked through my bookshelves and couldn’t pick out more than a couple dozen really distinguished titles from a thousand books or so. It seems to me mostly a matter of happy chance. The best title for an autobiography, by the way, was proposed by Preston Sturges, who never finished his, and remains unused, to my knowledge: The Events Leading Up to My Death.)
Another: Ian Hamet comments. The Dancer from Atlantis? Someone wean Ian off the sci-fi already.)4 Comments