the magic of the right title

Finding the right title for a book is an odd process. It can come to you in a flash, years before you write the book; it may never come to you at all. There are many fantastic novels with boring — even bad — titles.

[asa book]0763639311[/asa] Once in a while you come across a book with a title that strikes a chord. I came across one of those titles the other day — thanks to Mary Beth Conlee of the Burlington Public Library. She suggested a book that immediately had my attention, simply because of the title: The Knife of Never Letting Go.

There’s an image there of someone with a bloody clenched fist, holding onto … what? Anger, resentment, obsession? I would love to ask the author about the genesis of this title. And I’ll have to read it, of course.

A title that resonates for me doesn’t guarantee that I’ll love the book.

[asa book]015601226X[/asa] In this case, I did.

As Meat Loves Salt deserves to be more widely known. It’s a carefully researched historical set in Cromwell’s England. Jacob Cullen is the kind of unreliable narrator who almost shoves the story across the pages. He’s charismatic and well intentioned. He’s also violent, destructive, and a paragon of self-loathing. It’s not a gentle read, but I found it engrossing.

[asa book]0312961324[/asa] The Shell Seekers is a novel I remember finding very likable — but I also don’t remember a single thing about it except the title. I went to read the summary at Amazon and I thought, sounds interesting — and I still don’t have any memory of it.

This may be entirely my fault, of course. Maybe I wasn’t in a good place; maybe my memory is going.

[asa book]0802141676[/asa] This is one of those titles that seems humorous at first because it evokes an unexpected image, but after a moment’s reflection, is anything but. There’s an odd thing about this novel. Sometimes when I’m looking over my bookshelves The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven comes to my attention — and I’m irritated. Because all day long I’ll be thinking about the title and the book, almost gnawing on it. There are authors whose primary purpose to make readers uncomfortable (in a good way). Sherman Alexie is one of them.

Are there any titles that work for you in the same way these do for me?

16 Replies to “the magic of the right title”

  1. Alison Pittman has intriguing titles, though not completely off the was. “Speak through the Wind” and “Ten Thousand Charms” are two titles with interesting covers. You wonder what the title means and it guides you through the book. I really like these ethereal titles.

  2. There are three that come to mind for me: two novels and one short story collection.

    Many Things Have Happened Since He Died, by Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn
    By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, by Elizabeth Smart
    Cowboys Are My Weakness, stories by Pam Houston

  3. It’s funny that you should mention Sherman Alexie making you uncomfortable; I gave up reading him because I feel the same way. I was almost seduced back last year but the book I bought is still on my shelf, untouched.

    I’m a sucker for titles, books I’ve bought based solely on title include:

    -The Sad Truth About Happiness by Anne Giardini;
    -The Man Who Ate the 747 by Ben Sherwood; and
    -This Book Will Save Your Life by A.M. Homes.

    1. Kenzie, Hi this is Tia. Have you actually read The Man Who Ate The 747? I thought it was a really great read, and I too got caught by the title.

      Another good story is A Parchment Of Leaves by Silas House( 1900’s KY Appalachia centered around a Cherokee family and caucasian family) The cover caught my eye and I really liked the story. Sometimes I admit I get suckered by a bookcover and how it looks rather than a title….

  4. My ex bought me “The Knife of Letting Go” for a Christmas present. I thought it was some cute way of being a smart @*^, we are very good friends at this point in our lives so getting me that book…..Well,I finally read it. It took me a bit to get into it but once I did, I didn’t put it down! It was SO good! So different and inventive. I enjoyed the characters and the way the author leaves you hanging at the end! I encourage everyone to read it! It’s not going to appeal to everyone but it’s going to be a pleasure to most!

  5. I was recently in my favorite used bookstore and I came across a booked called “You Can’t Get There From Here” and I loved that thought so much that I knew I was going to buy the book even before I saw what it was about. When I did read the blurb inside the jacket, the story intrigued me even more. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s near the top of my TBR pile.

    Another book I picked up for both the title and the cover art is “A Great and Terrible Beauty” by Libba Bray. That one quickly became one of my favorites.

  6. The Once and Future King by T. H. White. Spiffy title and a good read.

    Refering to a previous post, here’s a neat place to type a writer’s name and get a map of similar writers:

    The really good news is that typing Rosina Lippi gets Sara Donati as a close match! Then again, choosing Sara Donati gets Rosina Lippi not very close. Rosalind Laker is closer. Wow! Ariana Franklin is kinda close.

  7. The Stand by Stephen King says everything about the basic premise of the book.
    Dragon Tears by Dean Koontz means nothing to me as a title, and I cannot see the reason for it to be the title

  8. I really like the titles of two of R.F. Delderfield’s series: A Horseman Riding By, and To Serve Them All My Days. They both seem to capture the essence of their protagonist without being literally descriptive. Another title I like is Perfect Skin by Nick Earls – it works on many levels.

  9. I read a book as a teenager with what I thought was an odd title. It was called “Cages of Glass, Flowers of Time”. The title makes sense by the end of the story. I loved the book and still have a copy of it.

  10. “The french executioner” by C.C Humfreys: though usually a job description as a title doesn’t work for me but this one caught my morbid curiosity and was a pretty good read.
    Tom Clancy’s “The sum of all fears”: Wow great title for a suspense thriller!
    Gerald Durrell’s had a few eye catching titles;
    My family and other animals
    Two in the bush
    The whispering land(cool title)
    Beasts in my belfry
    The overloaded ark

  11. A Darkness at Sethanon by Ray Feist, and King Rat by Clavell. I like that each of them sounds good to say out loud. Just what you can do with the few words at your disposal is fascinating. As I scan my bookshelves, “The” in a title has often hidden a really good read, but implies (to me) that little thought went into the title. It’s a prejudice I overcome pretty easily though.
    There were a couple of books in a series I liked, following one character’s rise and fall and rise again: Lion’s Heart and Lion’s Soul. By Karen Wehrstein. The main character was not called Lion, as I remember it, or maybe his name translated to lion or something. But he was the son of a king. Captured and sold as a slave to a conquering people, he starts out curious and ends wise, and a true king. Sometimes I wonder if the book was split in two by the publishers, and if then, what of the title? Interesting.

  12. “The Girl Who Chased the Moon” by Sarah Addison Allen hasn’t even come out yet, but the title sounds so interesting, and of course I love her previous works.
    I am the kind of person who judges books by there cover. Most of that depends on a good title. I’ve been a long time fan of Scifi/Fantasy, but I’ve found that most of the titles don’t really have to do with the book, so I watch out for those.
    I am also greedy over my books. It’s funny, because I try to be real active in our “Friends of the Library program”, but I just find it hard to give up books, even if I didn’t enjoy them much, there still mine. I guess I’m just selfish that way. I mean if anyone wants to borrow my books, I have no problem, but when asked to donate books, I have none to spare.

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