Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Grabber Book Titles

Well, it had to come up sometime. The chatter here on Type M, especially Vicki’s entry yesterday, waved too much of a red flag for me to be able to resist. We’ve discussed book covers and now opening lines. Here’s why book titles are so important.

I often buy books based first on the title. If the book has an intriguing title, I’m certainly more than likely to pick it up, after which I flip to the back cover or front flap to read what codswallop the copywriter came up with in order to further sell me the book. Then if I’m in a good, small bookstore, I ask someone if they’ve read it. If I’m in one of those huge chain stores, I’ll hold the book up high and shout, “Oy! Has anyone of you knobs read this book I’m holding?” If I don’t get punched out — or thrown out — I might buy the book.

Okay, so here are some of my favourite book titles, in no particular order:

* The Concrete Blonde by Michael Connelly
* Smilla’s Sense of Snow by Daniel Hoeg
* The Mexican Tree Duck by James Crumley
* I Sing the Body Electric by Ray Bradbury
* The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd

Wonderfully evocative, aren’t they? Now, how can one not pick up a book with one of those titles? You’ve just gotta — if only to find out just what the title means. The book may stink (and none of the above do), but you can’t ignore them. They scream out for a closer look. I discovered Michael Connelly’s wonderfully graphic writing because of picking up this book because of the title. Titles are that important.

I’ve only once come up with one that everyone told me was really good: Cemetery of the Nameless, but the truth of the matter is, I didn’t make it up. It is an actual place in Vienna. I didn’t even dig up the information myself (no pun intended...on second thought...). Two Viennese cops told me about it. Sad but true.

So, folks, what are your top 5 book titles (or short story, for that matter)?

5 comments:

David said...

Titles. I love titles.

The Barbie Murders by John Varley
The Persistence of Vision by John Varley
(Varley has the best titles in science fiction, a genre shot through with great titles)
The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley
Blind Man with a Pistol by Chester Himes
Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man by Ed McBain (a pun that runs deeper through the book than the Grand Canyon)

Rick Blechta said...

The Last Good Kiss. What a great title! I would pick up that book in a heartbeat.

Good choices, David. Glad to see a fellow title aficianado checking in.

I also realized I left one of my favourite novels off my list: Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins. How could I have done that?

Donis Casey said...

Who has better titles than Tom Wolfe?
Particular favorites include "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby:, Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, The Bonfire of the Vainities, and of course The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.

Vicki Delany said...

You are too modest, Rick. Anyone can come across a phrase like "Cemetary of the Nameless" but it takes an eye to realize it would make a good title. My favourite is A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius. Tom Wolfe's titles, as mentioned by Donis, are cute, but wouldn't make me buy the book. A recent favourite is Friend of the Devil and also Ian Rankin's Exit Music. Good titles that hint at a good crime novel.

John Corrigan said...

Crumley's opening lines aren't bad either. Thanks for the insight.