Eponymous

By Greg Olear

Writing

Back in April, Megan DiLullo wrote a post called “I Was Gang Banged by the Lollypop Guild and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt.” I don’t know if we keep statistics on such things, or that we could if we wanted to, but I’d venture to guess that pretty much everybody who checked the site that day clicked that link. Because, you know, there was a chance that the piece was actually about her erotic misadventures in Lilliput. And who wouldn’t want to hear about that?

(The answer to that rhetorical question: everybody but Lenore).

In cyberspace in general, and The Nervous Breakdown in particular, long, audacious titles tend to yield more hits than single words no one uses, like, say, “Eponymous.” Some of Reno’s titles, for example, are almost as long as his posts, and he’s one of the most popular writers on here.

With so many books coming out every year—and so many other media that compete with novels for your entertainment dollar—a catchy title is absolutely essential, especially for an emerging author. So, you know, the heat is on to come up with a good one.

I did a survey of titles, mostly of novels, and found that most of them are what I’d term safe. They are riffs on one of a handful of accepted formats. To wit:

 

Names

Hamlet, Macbeth, David Copperfield, Justine, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Jane Eyre, Lolita

 

Places

Peyton Place, Preston Falls, Empire Falls, Wuthering Heights, Great Jones Street, Casablanca, Prague, Chinatown

 

Dates

1984, “December, 1963,” Ash Wednesday, Saturday, Friday, Twelfth Night

 

Red, White & Blue

American Tabloid, American Psycho, American Beauty, American Pie, American Gigolo, American Graffiti, American Idiot

 

Pairs

War & Peace, War & Rememberance, Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Sons & Lovers, Crime & Punishment, Angels & Demons

 

Definite Articles

The Exorcist, The Alchemist, The Alienist, The Wrestler, The Idiot, The Moviegoer, The Kite Runner

 

Feelings

Atonement, Affliction, Possession, Lust, Persuasion, Unforgiven, Despair

 

Allusions

For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sound & The Fury, Tender is the Night, Pale Fire, Brave New World, Far From the Madding Crowd, The Paths of Glory

 

-ing Around

Saving Private Ryan, Being John Malkovich, Searching for Bobby Fischer, Romancing the Stone, Waiting for Godot

 

Euphemisms for Death

The Big Sleep, The Big Chill, The Sweet Hereafter

 

This is not to suggest that any of these titles are bad—some of them are excellent, I think—just that they are safe. They don’t take any chances.

Atonement is the perfect title for what is, in my estimation, the best English-language novel of the last quarter century—what else would it be called?—but it’s not a title you see and think, “Wow, that sounds good; I have to run and buy that.” But then, Ian McEwan can get away with that.

Prague is actually set in Budapest; the title derives from the fact that all the expats in Hungary would rather be in the Czech capital. A cool title, once you find that out—but unless you’re Darian Arky and you were just on the Charles Bridge this morning, does it really want to make you pick it up and read it?

A good title—a really good title, I mean—should 1) pique your interest—that’s a must; 2) have more than one meaning; 3) suggest the time, place, setting, and/or theme of the work; and 4) be realized in an unexpected and interesting way.  It’s also helpful if it sounds really cool.

Here are some of my favorite titles of all time:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • The Bell Jar
  • Tropic of Cancer
  • The Silence of the Lambs
  • The Crying of Lot 49
  • The Maltese Falcon
  • Landscape of the Body
  • Bonfire of the Vanities
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  • The Financial Lives of the Poets

What are yours?  Do tell.

 

TAGS: , , , , , ,

GREG OLEAR is the Los Angeles Times bestselling author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker and founding editor of The Weeklings.

225 responses to “Eponymous”

  1. I like the idea of playing to the market in order to get the highest possible saturation rates. Hence my idea for a new TV show – Dr. Detective, Attorney at Law.

    I digress.

    Bonfire of the Vanities is one of my favourites too.

    I like Alex Garland’s The Tesseract because it’s a word I learned by reading the book and because it applies so wonderfully to the book itself.

    Jim Thompson: Savage Night; the title itself raises so many images. Can we go past Banned for Life and Totally Killer? There’s a lot going on in those two titles as well.

    That being said, I think for chutzpah, I can’t go past Ed McBain’s tale of a police department that makes a gruesome, lopped-off discovery: Give the Boys a Great Big Hand.

    • Greg Olear says:

      If there were tesseracts, you could visit a lot easier, that’s for sure. And I like your TV show…a smart development person should hop on that.

      My book was called Quid Pro Quo until fairly late in the process. My editor suggested I could come up with something better; Steph and I tossed around ideas all night; the next morning, in the shower, TK came to me. A big improvement, I think.

      I’m a sucker for “THIS of the THAT” style titles. Should have created a subcategory…

      • D-DATLAW is mine, internet! I own it! And all its subsidiary rights!

        Apparently the original title for A Time to Kill was DeathKnell. It could have been a Grishamless existence for us all if that had been the case…

        • Greg Olear says:

          You can check me on this, but I think he wrote A Time to Kill before The Firm, but the latter was published first. We were destined to have him. And since he helped inspire my book, I’m not too upset about it.

          Who do you see starring in D-DATLAW? David Caruso? Dominic West? Or go the other way and get Tim Allen?

        • I’ve got a lot of time for Grisham. Sure, he’s no literary genius, but, at the same time, when you want to relax and read something that’s the mental equivalent of eating cheesecake in a warm bath and having a good time doing it, he’s your guy, every time.

          D-DATLAW? Hmmmm…

          I like Neal McDonough for the main part. But I want Tim Allen to be associated with everything I do ever, so maybe Allen could be the world-weary detective who knows he’ll never get another promotion but just don’t care.

        • Goddamn italics!

          (see, I say that just like Detective Hank Keaney, as played by Tim Allen, would say it)

          These goddamn italics. They ruined the streets and now they’re gonna ruin me.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I love Tim Allen. Green light from me.

  2. Kimberly says:

    I’m not gonna lie: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” was awesome, if only because so many people had to say the whole damn thing so many times come Oscar season. 🙂

    Otherwise, a few more to add to your list (good titles, all):

    – A Raisin in the Sun
    – Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
    – A Streetcar Named Desire (really, anything of Tennessee Williams’ has an excellent title: Summer & Smoke, etc)
    – (ahem) Ménage à trois (the story of a boy… a girl… and her cell phone)
    – Some Like It Hot

    And my very favorite title in the whole world is currently unpublished, so I hesitate to put it up here, lest it be stolen. But if Lance Reynald says it’s okay, then I’ll let him post the title of (what I think is) his next novel – which is a title I heard a few years back when we were NaNoWriMo buddies – and it was heart-stoppingly good. But alas… ’tis not mine to tell. Poo.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Those are all excellent. Especially the full Borat title. (Do you own the DVD? It looks like a crappy disc you’d buy at Walmart, with the word “Borat” in marker across. So fucking funny).

      Williams has fabulous titles, as does Eugene O’Neill.

      While you’re aheming, Why We Wax is a good one, too.

      G

      PS
      Lance? Do tell!

      • lance reynald says:

        Ha! I know the one k-dub is talking about… keeping it under my hat til I bust the story out in more form, I fear self-jinxing like mad… but, I hope they’ll let me keep it as is.

        all time fave titles though

        The Beautiful Room is Empty- Edmund White
        Written on the Body – Jeanette Winterson
        A Home at the End of the World- Michael Cunningham
        We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live- Joan Didion
        The Things They Carried- Tim O’Brien

        (and, soon K-dub… soon.)

        • Greg Olear says:

          I understand the desire for secrecy…and eagerly await the story/novel to which the title is attached. While we’re at it, Pop Salvation is a damned good title, too.

          Written on the Body is a great one…and a great book.

        • thanks. I wanted to put into words what Caleb was after and the title just kinda came to me near the end.

          and, Written on the Body is a GREAT book! seriously required reading with everyone I meet.

  3. tip robin says:

    Excellent analysis here Greg.

    Off the top of my head, I would venture to toss in these novel titles as ones which pique my interest or seem exceptional. I have not read all of them, but about half of them yes. I hope the other half are half as good as their titles.

    Infinite Jest
    White Noise
    Fierce Invalids from Hot Climates (or any title by Robbins, really)
    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
    My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist
    If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler
    Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
    The Sun Also Rises
    69 Things to do with a Dead Princess
    Sometimes a Great Notion
    A Minor Apocalypse
    The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
    Under the Volcano
    The Naked and the Dead
    The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
    Dharma Bums
    Desolation Angels
    The Gospel According to Jesus Christ
    Suzy, Led Zepplin and Me
    Life: A User’s Manual
    Gravity’s Rainbow
    Requiem for a Dream
    The Quantity Theory of Insanity
    How the Dead Live
    Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
    Slaughterhouse-Five
    Confessions of an English Opium Eater
    The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat
    Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
    The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary

    Incidentally, I wrote a post here on TNB about 1.5 years ago entitled “Without Tits there is No Paradise” which delved into the nature of titles and what makes a good one. It was by no means nearly as accurate, concise nor comprehensive as yours here. But I thought I’d mention it if only to point out the odd nature of the title itself, a Colombian novel and TV series.

    It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best titles ever created.

    • Kimberly says:

      You’re so right Kip! Tom Robbins is a title-master! Half-asleep in Frog Pajamas? Skinny Legs and All? Jitterbug Perfume? All perfect!!

      But yes, “Without Tits there is No Paradise” reigns supreme.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, Kip…a fine list (although I personally detest the Eggers one, I see why people dig it).

      Here’s your link:

      http://archives.thenervousbreakdown.com/ktobin/2008/05/without-tits-there-is-no-paradise/

      The Sun Also Rises is one of my favorite books of all time. How did I miss it? I love the word “also.”

      • Greg Olear says:

        OK, just read Kip’s piece…it’s quite good. Even though when I read “Colombian,” I thought it was a Columbo episode. I’m a dope sometimes.

        I also missed The Postman Always Rings Twice. Doh.

        • tip robin says:

          Thanks Greg! I truly wasn’t trying to self-promote there, thus the omitting of my link.

          Also, I misspelled Colombian too, but my orthographic security guard had my back.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I always like when the pieces connect to one another, especially when it makes sense.

          I keep imagining Peter Falk saying, “Without tits, there is no paradise,” and really milking the word “tits.”

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Thanks for the good word, Simon.

      As you may or may not remember — and there’s no reason that you should — the phrase “banned for life” never comes up in my book. I thought about including a passage that would either include it or point to the meaning of the name, but I decided against it, hoping that the reader might possibly wonder as to the meaning, or come up with his or her own interpretation.

      I agree with you that Bonfire of the Vanities is a good title, just as I agree with Greg that The Crying of Lot 49 is excellent. But I can’t really point to many novel titles that I especially love, aside from The Shadow Line by Joseph Conrad. Oh, and since Simon mentions Jim Thompson, there’s A Hell of a Woman — classic pulp, no?

      But I can think of a number of great play titles. Sam Shepard had a few, including my favorite, Geography of a Horse Dreamer. I’m also partial to In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel by Tennessee Williams, though it’s rather plain, just as I always liked Strange Interlude by Eugene O’Neill (the play itself is awful) and Mourning Becomes Electra, which I’m nuts about, even though that it’s been ruined somewhat by an NPR show that puns on it (“Morning Becomes Electric”).

      And then there are film titles, such as Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia which, come to think of it, is probably my favorite title of anything, period.

      And record titles, such as Positively 4th Street and Exile on Main Street? (I find the latter record dull compared to its evocative title.) And you know what I wish a band would name a record, if it hasn’t been done already? Eponymous. It’s such a cliche for critics to speak of an eponymous LP, it’s about time there literally is one.

      • Kip Tobin says:

        I also think that Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia is probably the acme of all titles, with Without Tits There is No Paradise being a close second.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Kip, in your older piece you mention that TV shows tend to have kind of blah titles. I think that’s because, until the recent surge in cable TV, they didn’t need to be creative. There were few stations — and still are. It’s not like someone wasn’t going to discover The Simpsons, which used to air at 8pm on Fox, a major network.

          Duke, I think that novels, until recently, had the same luxury. Now there needs to be more seduction involved with a title. If he wrote it today, would Joyce have gone with Ulysses? I think he’d have preferred a longer, Reno-esque title.

      • Greg Olear says:

        Duke – I forgot about Sam Shepard. All of his titles are great. Plus, Buried Child is the best play I’ve ever seen on Broadway.

        No argument about Alfredo Garcia.

        How do you feel about Faster, Pussycat, Kill Kill?

        Also: Eponymous is the title of REM’s first greatest hits album, compiled in I think 1989 or 90, just as they made the leap to the major label. It took me about 15 years to figure out what the hell the word meant.

        Rule of Thumb and Superego have some great song titles, which I didn’t get into, but my favorite song title of all time is “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” narrowly beating out “Total Eclipse of the Heart.”

        • tip robin says:

          Greg,

          Agreed on all accounts here. I didn’t even really know how to pronounce Eponymous until a few years ago.

          Both of those songs, mentioned, by the way, are Jim Steinman songs. I used to be a huge Meat Loaf and Steinman fan back in the day.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I love Steinman. He knows how to be emotional without being cheesy.
          (Although some people might disagree).

      • After reading Banned, the title resonated with me for a while
        in terms of the different ways it wrapped itself around the story.
        I like that it didn’t realize itself in such obvious terms.

        • And my favorite album title is Joni Mitchell’s For the Roses – the not as popular
          heartbreak album (everyone thinks Blue is the saddest – I don’t think so).
          They are songs for the flowers that were given with all of the best intentions
          but even they too will die.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I prefer Ladies of the Canyon.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          I’m with Greg on Ladies of the Canyon. But Blue, I think, is technically better: quirkier and less “folkie.” Court and Spark is also a masterpiece — with a great title, I’d like to add.

          Of course I love what Steph says about Banned for Life as a title. The principle idea of the title, as I saw it, was that anyone truly alive — that is, alive emotionally and intellectually — is persona non grata in a culture that professes to love life but is in fact dead and covertly in love with death.

          I agree with Greg about “Paradise” being a great song title, but I predictably dislike the song (or in any case the best-known recording of the song), though I recognize that it’s inventive and so on. Faster Pussycat is also a great title; and Sam Shepard — well, I’m pretty much a fan across the board. He’s one of the best living American writers for my money; but I don’t have any money, and he has the misfortune of being, predominately, a playwright, which these days, I think, limits appreciation.

          I’m also naturally glad that you, Greg, like the titles of Superego and Rule of Thumb songs. In some cases, they sprouted instantly. In other cases, a lot of thought went into them.

          As for REM — I don’t know much about them, and never did, though Document is, I think, a great record, and the only one by REM that I own. I want to kill when I hear “Happy Shiny People,” or whatever the fuck it’s called; I may be rearranging the order of the adjectives.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Document is their best record, if by “best” I mean “one I listen to the most.” The radio hits are good, abut the “Welcome to the Occupation”/”Exhuming McCarthy”/”Disturbance at the Heron House” — all excellent titles — is one of the more underrated trios of song out there.

          I bet you really enjoyed “Stand,” then, Duke…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Oh, yeah. I love it.

      • Jim Simpson says:

        R.E.M. did it in 1988. Respectable overview of their early years, ’81-’87.

    • Sometimes a Great Notion – the greatest book in American literature in my opinion. I love that book.

  4. A good title can definitely pull you in, pique your interest. Here’s a short list of my personal favorites, all of which are excellent books after you flip past the cover and title page too:

    One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
    My Pet Virus by Shawn Decker
    The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o
    Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
    Furors Die by William Hoffman
    The Land that Drank the Rain by William Hoffman

    • Greg Olear says:

      Cuckoo’s Nest! How did I miss that?!?!

      Good call, Jeffrey.

      Did you read Gravity’s Rainbow all the way through? I’ve tried a few times, but I keep getting stuck at the part where they make all the food out of bananas. Which, as I understand it, is symbolism: they’re all bananas! (By contrast, I’ve read 49 six or seven times, and love it…the title is realized the very last line of the book, which is beyond brilliant).

      • I’m a huge Ken Kesey fan. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is at the top of any list I have. Sometimes a Great Notion at numero uno with Demon Box coming in at #2. One book of his I have to say I still have trouble continuing is Sailor Song. Still haven’t finished that one.

        I did read all of Gravity’s Rainbow by Pynchon. It took me a while. I felt like I was having a nervous breakdown reading it. Very tough, very slow read. At least for me. I admire the guy’s brilliance and use of the English language. It’s can be confusing but I like a challenge like that every now and again in my reading. By the end of the book, I felt like I needed to visit a doctor to double-check that I hadn’t turned into a schizophrenic. I used to read it mostly during my lunch break at work. So one day, I bite into my ham & cheese sandwich and start chewing and there it is, the most disgusting and visual sex scene every described in any book, in any piece of art. Since you’ve read a chunk of this book, I know you know what I’m talking about. I honestly almost threw up reading it.

        Speaking of The Crying of Lot 49, I think that may have been the Pynchon book I should have read first. I still have Against the Day staring at me from atop my bookshelf, unopened. It’s a bit daunting.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I never made it to that scene. I’ve read 49 six or seven times, “V” twice, “Slow Learner” a few times, and the new one, which is fantastic.

          Supposedly Kurt Cobain cribbed the line “smells like teen spirit” from “Gravity’s Rainbow.” True?

    • tip robin says:

      Great titles Pillow, my favorite being The Land that Drank the Rain

      • William Hoffman’s a great author. Just passed away following hip surgery. Sort of a shock really for him to have died. Nice guy too. I got to meet him a few weeks before he passed. My wife knew him really well. He was her neighbor. I used to be terrified of the guy growing up. He was “the writer,” the older man I always saw walking the streets of Charlotte Court House. The older I got, the more intimidated of him I became until my wife finally forced me to muster up enough courage to speak to him. You should check out Yancey’s War. The “War Games” scene is one of the funniest scenes in any novel.

        William Hoffman is one of those great American authors that’s sort of a diamond in the rough.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I’ll have to check him out. Bummer of a story.

        • tip robin says:

          I’ll have to check out this Hoffman character as well. First time I’ve heard of him.

          Would you recommend one over the other?

        • Hoffman kept a fairly low profile as a writer. I truly believe he’ll be read far and wide one day, once he is rediscovered in literary circles. He had most of his success early on in the 1960’s and was picked up by the big dogs in Harper and Penguin at various points in his life. Amazon has most of his books: http://www.amazon.com/William-Hoffman/e/B001HOHBLO/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_2?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1263129773&sr=8-2

          There’s a little place called the Yarn Corner where I’m from that has literally everything he ever wrote. He was the most published writer in the history of the Sewanee Review and was the recipient of just about every literary award most want to achieve as a writer. He’s a good read. I’ll warn you on one thing, however, because I know some folks don’t like this sort of thing: some of his books are “regional” reads, Lies being one of them. I love that book though.

        • Oh, and Greg… I picked up a copy of Totally Killer at Barnes & Noble yesterday. It’s a page turner and I’m loving it. On pg. 102 already. Favorite line in the book so far:

          “I would have rather heard my own diagnosis of syphillis than Taylor’s diagnosis of Asher’s affections.”

          Great line.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Thanks, man! Much appreciated.

          My favorite line in TK is the one about Michael Jackson’s nose…

  5. Ben Loory says:

    i tend to like titles that present mystery without explaining it. if a title answers itself, why read the book, is how i see it.

    Ubik by philip k. dick
    Pop. 1280 by jim thompson
    We Have Always Lived in the Castle by shirley jackson
    Spoon River Anthology (which is not an anthology) by edgar lee masters
    Catch-22 by joseph heller
    How I Came to Know Fish by ota pavel
    The Tenant by roland topor
    We by yevgeny zamyatin

    i also really love

    Voyage in the Dark by jean rhys

    • Greg Olear says:

      Excellent point, Ben.

      I think that how/if/when a title is realized in the book/movie/whatever is also important. In Catch-22 — which I agree is an excellent title, as well as a great book — it’s sort of bandied about before you know what it means, if memory serves.

      I love how, in Silence of the Lambs, he never utters that phrase; just it’s opposite: “If you can save one, you can stop the awful screaming of the lambs.”

      Also: your Dick mention — most of his titles are great — made me realize I also forgot The Left Hand of Darkness. Great way that’s realized, too.

  6. Stacy Bierlein says:

    I also love the word also. And I wish the title, and ode to Judy Blume, Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, had occured to me first. (Can we all just agree that Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Stacy, is a pretty awesome title?!)

    One of my all-time faves is The Quantity Theory of Insanity (Self).

    King, Queen, Knave (Nabokov) always takes my attention on the bookshelf.

    A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That, by Lisa Glatt.

    The Trick is to Keep Breathing, by Janice Galloway.

    Go West Young Fucked Up Chick, by Rachel Resnick. Oh, and her memoir is called Love Junkie, which is also a great title.

    I tend to like full-sentence titles, I think. Hummm … Which reminds me …

    I Love Myself When I Am Laughing And Then Again When I Am Feeling Mean And Impressive: The Collected Stories of Zora Neale Hurston.

    Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry, by Elizabeth McCracken. (One of the notable stories within has the terrific title “It’s Bad Luck to Die.”)

    The Nimrod Flipout, by Etgar Keret. (One of the included stories has an event better title, “Actually, I’ve Had Some Phenomenal Hardons Lately.”)

    • Greg Olear says:

      I am also partial to complete-sentences titles. Flannery O’Connor had a way with those, my favorite of hers being “Everything That Rises Must Converge,” which is also my favorite short story of all time.

      And I have a weakness for long titles, such as Sufjan Stevens employs: “The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience but You’re Going to Have to Leave Now, or, ‘I Have Fought the Big Knives and Will Continue to Fight Them Until They Are Off Our Lands!'” All that for a two-minute song! It sure does fuck up the iPod.

      The Chelsea title is awesome. In my case, it’d be way lamer: Are You There, Diet Coke? It’s Me, Greg doesn’t have quite the same ring to it…

      • Stacy Bierlein says:

        Hummm … a book title for an audience of Diet Coke junkies! (On New Year’s Day my husband and I decided to give up DC as part of our healthier new year. By 1/5 we were hiding 12-packs in the garage. We are the Whitney and Bobby of Diet Coke!)

        “Everything That Rises Must Converge” IS such a kickass story title. Now I’m inspired to read the story again …

        • Greg Olear says:

          Whitney & Bobby – ha!

          As a parent of two little kiddies, I don’t get to indulge in so many things — excess drinking, travel, sleeping past seven thirty, etc — that to deny myself Diet Coke would just be cruel, no matter how bad it is for me.

          Julian, his mom, the hat. Great story.

    • Whoa – I love Are You There Vodka… – brilliant.
      I actually had thought of listing are you there god… as a perfect title –
      that and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – love Judy Blume.
      But your title might be better.

      • Stacy Bierlein says:

        Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing has such an intensity to it! I remember the first time I read it as a child. I remember the way my friends and I loved reading so much, especially in the Judy Blume era, and then we didn’t, because the readings we were assigned in the classroom seemed so far removed from our own experiences–especially for the girls. It wasn’t until I was in grad school, and finding books that grabbed at my imagination the way Are You There God … and Tales of a Fourth Grad Nothing did, that I really loved reading again.

        • Greg Olear says:

          It would be interesting to track reading habits. I don’t think I’ve ever read as much as I did in late elementary school/junior school. And I loved me some Superfudge.

          “I won Dribble…”

  7. James D. Irwin says:

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is probably my favourite title. It’s long-ish, but it flows nicely.

    hate coming up with titles. HHGTTG is a perfect example of a title that fits the book, give a good idea of what it might be about without giving anything away.

    before Cactus City Blues was called Cactus City Blues it had a string of titles that both sounded like bad science-fiction and also seemed to heavily imply the ending.

    HST was good with titles. ‘The Rum Diary’ and ‘F&LILV’ just sound cool…

    • Greg Olear says:

      Agree with Hitchhiker. Perfect title for that book.

      And HST did have a gift for titles for sure.

      What were the discarded CCB titles? Spill it, Jedi.

      • James D. Irwin says:

        The others in the five part trilogy were pretty good too. I’ve also just got hold of ‘The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul’…

        The rejected titles for CCB (at the risk of spoilers!):

        The Valentine Corporation (rejected because it sounded like bad 50s sci-fi and the Valentine Corporation was taken out of the story)

        God Damn You, *Character Name* (a tribute to God Bless You, Mr Rosewater— and rejected because I hate it, and immediately means a character whose name is unknown at first is known by the unlucky fool reading it)

        The Green Manalishi (rejected because I didn’t want to use the name of a song as a title, although the song itself partially inspired aspects of the story)

        Pearford City Blues (rejected because I preferred ‘Cactus’)

        There were many others, but those are the only ones that I can remember…

        • Greg Olear says:

          I like The Valentine Corporation, actually. But it depends on the book, if it fits.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I thought it sounded too much like either a thriller or, as I said, cheap sci-fi.

          Although in all honesty Cactus City Blues largely is cheap sci-fi…

        • Greg Olear says:

          I will be the judge of that. And what’s wrong with cheap sci-fi?

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Absolutely nothing. I meant more cheesy sci-fi than cheap.

          I wanted to write a serious novel, but the concept was pretty much cheap sci-fi. I threw in a load of jokes and pop culture references and it was born!

          I feel safe in saying that it’s probably the only novel ever written that references the 2008 Detroit Lions, Magnum PI, Margaret Thatcher, Shaft’s Big Score, Fleetwood Mac and Hamlet.

          The Hamlet reference is one of my favourite, because it’s from a part of Act II Scene II that I pretty much know by heart. I’ve always wanted to be able to quote Shakespeare.

          It’s also the part of Hamlet that’s recited by Withnail at the end of Withnail and I.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I’m a big fan of taking B-movie conceits and giving them A-movie novelistic treatment. As a reader of my book, you know that already. I’m looking forward to reading CCB.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m looking forward to you reading it.

          I’m taking this week to catch up on work and plan another book (non-ficiton), before making a few tweaks next weekend and hopefully letting a few more people read it.

          It still feels odd to be able to tell people I’ve written a novel. Odder still that a couple of my friends have since asked my advice on how to set about writing their own…

        • Greg Olear says:

          These things should not be rushed, although the urge to rush them makes heroin addiction seem quaint.

          Advice? Nike. Just do it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It’s just ocurred to me that when I go through and tweak it it’ll be the first time I’ve ever read it from beginning to end…

          I’m so bloody impatient… and I lack self control…

        • Greg Olear says:

          Read it out loud. That’s always fun.

        • and not quite as embarassing when there’s no one about to hear…

  8. JB says:

    There’s a Boy in the Girls’ Bathroom
    Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha
    No Pussyfooting
    Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
    The Spaghetti Incident?
    Stankonia
    Goats Head Soup
    A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
    Wise Blood
    Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky / Hangover Square

  9. AnnMarie says:

    As far as titles go, I’m a fan of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and Why I Have Not Written Any of My Books.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime because it’s set in the town I was born.

      The town is referred to by one of the characters as ‘the arsehole of the universe.’

      I also like it because it’s funny.

      And as titles go, it is taken from something said by Sherlock Holmes in ‘Silver Blaze.’ Titles with obscure quotes are good.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I like the title, but I don’t care for the book. My reasons are part artistic, part personal — and worthy of their own post at some point.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I got your comments via e-mail first and thought you were referring to THHGTTG when you said ‘I don’t care for the book.’

          I read it and enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as good as people kept saying it was.

          Come to think of it, I might only have found it funny because it was set where I grew up and the main character’s dad has some cracking lines knocking the place.

          I don’t like novels with pictures/illustrations though. Except with Vonnegut, because it’s great, as a young man, to read a book written by a middle aged man which features drawings of arseholes, boobies or ‘beavers.’

          I read it— the dog in the night time— quite a long time ago. I’m not sure if I’d like it now. Most of the stuff I thought was awesome seven years ago doesn’t seem quite as awesome now…

        • Greg Olear says:

          I agree. I don’t like the third act at all. But I have other reasons for not liking it.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’d like to hear them. I don’t remember it all that well…

        • Greg Olear says:

          Much was made about how the narrator has Aspergers, and that novel is one of precious few depictions of an “Aspie” in the popular culture. But he has the most extreme form of AS ever. It would be as if the only extant depiction of homosexuality were tapes of Richard Simmons. That’s maybe not Haddon’s fault, and I know in real life he did work with special needs children, but personally I find the book exploitative and not very helpful.

    • Greg Olear says:

      AnnMarie: Is the second one the subtitle of “Going Rogue”? ; )

  10. Jim Simpson says:

    My all-time favorite, and the one that comes to mind immediately: Giles Goat-Boy, even though Barth intimidates the hell out of me.

    You Can’t Go Home Again is another one that pretty much sums up the book, and Wolfe doesn’t intimidate me.

    • Greg Olear says:

      You Can’t Go Home Again seems to echo Return of the Native. Do they have any commonality at all? Haven’t read the Wolfe.

      Speaking of which, Hardy had great titles. All across the board.

  11. Angela Tung says:

    Seems I like longish titles as well, “The Something of Something,” preferably.

    The Interpreter of the Maladies
    Why I Live at the P.O.
    The God of Small Things
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
    The Year of Magical Thinking
    Alias Grace
    Angela’s Ashes
    A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again
    Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures (an awesome title, a so-so book)
    The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay

    And of course Anvil!: The Story of Anvil. Haha, just kidding.

  12. Jim Simpson says:

    Oh, and Eponymous as a title is also good, and it’s the title of R.E.M.s first complication album from their years with IRS Records. Not as much fun as Dead Letter Office, which was mostly B-sides and drunken outtakes, but it showcases some of their best work.

    Anyway, I stopped listening after Monster was released.

  13. jmblaine says:

    Not sure I have my history
    right but when TNB started Brad
    was writing stories with long
    sort of convoluted titles
    and seems I recall somewhere
    he asked that we do the same.
    That was a few years back now.
    I imagine the archives tell the story.
    If you look back you should see titles like
    “I Was a Teenage Enema Nurse at the Cold Cut Monastery Down by the Bakersfield Piggly Wiggly: A Love Story Gone Too Far”

    • James D. Irwin says:

      I remember when I first joined TNB is was explicitly stated that excessively long titles were encouraged.

      Although with 3.0 it’s explicitly stated that they can’t be too long…

      TNB always has great titles though. It’s inspirational.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Ah, so it was an intentional effort. I really like all the old titles.

  14. Irene Zion says:

    The Necromantic Chair

  15. Zara Potts says:

    I like anything with swearing in the title.
    ‘Parents -They Fuck You Up’ – That has to be my favourite title of all time. It makes me laugh everytime I hear it.

  16. Ryan Day says:

    The Savage Detectives
    Sputnik Sweetheart (any Murakami really… The Elephant Vanishes… Norwegian Wood…)
    The Broom of the System
    A Confederacy of Dunces

    These jump out at me… Because I can see them from where I’m sitting… And they make me want to read them again.

    Also:

    Homage to Catalonia
    White Teeth (I never read it, but it makes me think of the Pixies… Gigantic!!!)
    I love Dollars

    What about Rushdie… Those are some classically sweet titles

    Sometimes a Great Notion, though… Yeah, I am 1000% on board with that.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Dunces, as I’m sure you know, is from the Swift line: “If a true genius appears in this world, you shall know him by this sign: all the dunces are in confederacy against him.” Which is one of the great quotes of all time.

      Clearly I need to check out this Great Notion book…

      • Ryan Day says:

        The only problem is assuring yourself that the dunce isn’t you (and by you I f course mean me)…
        How about the Bible? That’s a ballsy entrance into the simplistic there… Calling your book “the book” is kind of dismissive of every other book and doing it in anglicized Latin just adds a whole nother layer of pretension.

        Also, I think that Hot Water Music is a great title, though I’m not a full fledged Bukowski fan.

    • D.R. Haney says:

      Agree with Ryan about Catalonia and </Notion, which means I also agree with Kip in the latter case.

  17. Brad Listi says:

    My favorite title? Death on the Installment Plan.

    I haven’t read the book in years, but there was a time in my mid-twenties where I read Celine and was absolutely rocked (particularly Journey and the aforementioned DOTIP). I still say that Journey is my favorite novel of all time, whenever anybody asks me that question. It’s the one that felt like it had everything in it. Nothing is missing. For me, anyway.

    And again: Haven’t read the book in a while, so maybe things have changed. My views of books—even my understanding of them—tends to change as I change.

    I also like the song title “Detachable Penis.”

  18. Michelle C says:

    Kind of strange trying to recollect titles and what I consider favorites…

    Some faves:

    Lord of the Flies
    Steppenwolf
    Siddhartha
    IT
    White Noise
    Idylls of the King
    The Hiding Place
    Requiem for a Dream
    The Lovely Bones
    Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea
    One Door Away from Heaven
    The Glass Menagerie
    A Stir of Echoes
    Go Ask Alice
    A Severed Wasp
    The Pillars of the Earth
    When will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?
    Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog

    And all of the Hitchhiker’s Guide titles (*especially* So Long, And Thanks for all the Fish)

    But what about your least favorite?

    A few of mine:

    The Sue Grafton alphabet ones (A is for Alibi, etc.)
    Going Rogue (you betcha!)
    Love in the Time of Cholera
    The Zookeeper’s Wife
    Secret Life of Bees
    Akeelah and the Bee
    Open
    Lit

    … subtitles are often annoying…

    What I also find intriguing is the ________ Or, _________ trend. (Frequently seen right here haha.)

    Like, “Managing the Magnificent Mishaps of My Mother. Or, The Perspective of an Only Child”

    • James D. Irwin says:

      The Restaurant at the End of the Universe is one of my favourites. Especially given the misleading use of words…

      My first copy of THHGTTG was one of the movie tie-ins which kind of sucked, because it’s huge and has loads of boring ‘extras.’

      HOWEVER, over Xmas I found a copy in a charity shop that was printed the year the book was first published. Best £1.75 I ever spent.

      • Michelle C says:

        This is quite a find!

        I had a computer game of that, talking on those old 5 1/4 or whatever those old big floppies were.
        I think it was even in fucking DOS, come to think of it.
        Hopefully that is not all complete gibberish to you…

        Anyway, the game started with Arthur Dent and the bulldozer, you had to type in what he does to continue, and I could not get past that part no matter what action I had him take. I’m frustrated just remembering it, ha.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I remember floppy disks! And I remember DOS.

          I always think that I must be at a really weird age, because I grew up just as computers where being used in school. Like, very,very late.

          So the generation before would be totally computer iliterate and the next year down would be the first to be really computer literate.

          As a result I barely understand these grand machines. I still believe wireless broadband is witchcraft…

          I’m only good at one compute game, and it’s a soccer game. Anything else and I’m lost.

          Have you seen the film version with Martin Freeman?

          It’s not too bad. It’s awful though that a lot of people who think themselves hardcore Adams fans slated the film and objected to the new characters put in the film DESPITE the fact that the book differs from the radio series and the TV adaptaion differs from the book AND Douglas Adams wrote the bloody screenplay.

          The same sort of pseudo-fanboys are rallying against the Sherlock Holmes movie, despite the fact that it’s probably the most accurate portrayal of the character… anyway…

        • Greg Olear says:

          I remember that HGTTG floppy disc game. You had to type in “unroll towel” or some crap. I always got run over by the bulldozer.

        • Michelle C says:

          Yeah, that used to piss me off so bad.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Did you also have Castle Wolfenstein?

        • Michelle C says:

          No! I don’t remember that. Honestly I think the Hitchhiker’s Guide game turned me off to pc games forevermore.

        • Greg Olear says:

          You didn’t miss anything.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          The only PC game I ever played was ‘Championship Manager 2’ which was a soccer management simulation.

          I was playing it in 2000/2001

          The game was from the 1995/96 season.

          It was awesome.

        • Zoh. Em. Gee. Those old Infocom games (Hitchhiker’s was one, and famous for its difficulty. The Babel fish puzzle on the Vogon ship was nigh impossible and included using the junkmail on a drain in the floor) are a significant part of the reason I’m a writer. I used to play Moonmist all the time. And Zork. Maximum verbosity ftw!

          Also great: Clive Barker’s Undying. No idea why it didn’t become a touchstone like Doom or even the aforementioned Wolfenstein; it was amazing. I remember playing it in the dark with my headphones on, and it was legitimately frightening.

        • Michelle C says:

          I understood almost none of that, but it still made me laugh!
          I think it was mainly the last sentence.

          I’m thinking Zork was not related at all to Mork for Ork?
          (Now that would have been cool)

        • Greg Olear says:

          Michelle: Nanoo nanoo.

        • Michelle C says:

          😆

    • Greg Olear says:

      Michelle —

      Lord of the Flies. Good call.

      I like the “This, or That” title, as long as it’s used well. It harkens back to the Victorian sort of novel. The best of these, of course, is Dr. Strangelove, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

      Most titles are bad. But the worst ones are too generic to even remember. Basic Instinct That sort of thing. Like, I can never remember if the George Clooney bank heist flick is Out of Sight or Out of Time. That’s a problem.

      • Michelle C says:

        Oh yes I agree, if it is creative… I should have made mention that the ones on here usually are very funny. The Dr Strangelove one- for sure a classic, and the style def has an impact when the ‘or’ part is longer.

        Yeah. I don’t even know about that George Clooney one. Rings absolutely no bells…

        A lot of my most favorite titles also tend to be my most favorite books.

  19. Michelle C says:

    Irwin,

    Oh yes, right. I would pretty much fit in the same category as you. Because, I am not old. I am young. Yes.

    Wireless broadband most likely is witchcraft or some derivation.

    Yes I saw the Martin Freeman film, I liked it.

    People are just too anal about those things sometimes.
    Pseudo-fanboys, heh.

  20. Marni Grossman says:

    I just finished a collection of Jean Thompson short stories with a pretty evocative title: “Do Not Deny Me.”

  21. Tawni says:

    This is really interesting, Greg. Cool write. As a songwriter, I have so much love for titles, because a good title can birthe an entire song. I love American Idiot. I have adored the title The Unbearable Lightness of Being since I first saw the movie in the early nineties, so much that I even tritely call my little online blog The Unbearable Lightness of Being Me. Two for the Road is a favorite movie with a good title. Hmm. What about movies/books/music with “road” in the title? Roadhouse comes to mind immediately, of course…

    • Tawni says:

      Whoops. Road House I mean. *sniffles*

      Swayyyzeeeeeee!!!!! *sobs*

      • James D. Irwin says:

        Road House is just awesome.

        I prefer Point Break, but I rarely watch one without watching the other afterwards.

        When Swayze died my brother and I held ‘The Patrick Swayze Memorial Feast’ which consisted of a Point Break/Road House double bill, cheeseburgers, fries, potato skins, root beer and nachos.

        We plan to do this every year.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Don’t forget “Donnie Darko.” He’s great in that.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m going to hold my hands up and admit that, as well as never having seen The Wire, I have never seen Donnie Darko.

          My only defence is that I only really got into watching films when I was seventeen/eighteen, and I still don’t watch all that many films.

          My ‘films-to-watch’ list comes close to rivalling my ‘books-to-read’ list…

        • Greg Olear says:

          “The Wire” is the best TV show of all time. Nothing comes close. It reinvents what television can do. You MUST watch it. It’s like a novel in TV form.

          DD is really cool…it speaks to a mood, and achieves it beautifully. And Swayze is terrific.

          You’re in school now. You need to be having movie marathons.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ve heard so many people compare The Wire to the reading of a novel. At the English Department Xmas party at the University of Essex one of my tutors got a bit drunk and told us all that we shouldn’t read another book until we watched The Wire.

          He’s actually the only thing I really miss about Essex. Most of his lectures began with ”I got into a drunken arguement with my Russian friend over …*insert that week’s text here*…

          I had a movie marathon the other day. Commando and Rock IV.

          I didn’t say it was a good movie marathon…

          (it was awesome actually. I generally prefer hilariously bad films).

        • Phat B says:

          Do you generally prefer very bad Governors? Because Arnold just won’t leave us alone in California. It was all fun and games when he was yelling “get toooo da chooopppaAAA” but now the man is trying to balance the budget. On Listi’s advice I will be voting for an 18 pound orange tabby cat for our next Governor.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It’s not the cat that played Jones from Alien is it?

        • Greg Olear says:

          Jedi – I’m not even worried about overhyping The Wire. It’s not possible.

          When I was in college, I watched the Michael Keaton Batman and Animal House at least 100 times each. No exaggeration. I don’t know why we did that, but we did.

          Phat – The problem with Cali is the referendum business. Instead of electing a tabby cat, you should just have a ballot initiative that elevates someone to State Emperor, with unlimited powers. Then, repudiate the debt. It worked in France with Louis the XVi (I think that’s who it was…I get the Louises mixed up). And I think we both know who should be on that ballot. Her initials are KK and her boyfriend’s a Saint.

    • Greg Olear says:

      American Idiot is great…great song, too. That drummer is so damned good.

      On the Road
      On the Road Again
      The Long and Winding Road
      Desolation Road
      Long Vermont Roads
      Take Me Home, Country Roads
      Highway to Hell

  22. My favorite-ever titles come from Calvin & Hobbes anthologies: Homicidal Psycho Jungle Cat is on my coffee table right now, and I hope one day both Something Under the Bed is Drooling and Scientific Progress Goes “Boink” will join it.

    So far as fiction, I’ve always like The Silence of the Lambs; it paid off so well.

    I struggled with the title of what became The Prodigal Hour; it went by both A Different Tomorrow and All Our Yesterdays before . . . well, funny story: I was working at a West Hollywood gym one day reading Brad’s Attention. Deficit. Disorder. One of our members came in, saw me reading it, and lit up; apparently, she’d gone to high school (I think) with Brad, so we got to talking about writing and USC and how good Brad’s book was and etc. A couple weeks later, I’d spaced out while thinking about the plot to my novel when I had one of those “ah HA!” sorts of moments we always hope for just as that particular member was coming into the gym. It was apparently so obvious on my face as to cause her to comment “Now that’s the book I want to read!”

    I’d tell you the thought, but I hope it pays off as well as The Silence of the Lambs did.

    I like to think I’m doing okay with titles so far. I have a mental image of my own “Also by” page, and so far it’s got some doozies, I like to think.

    Finally, I hate to quibble, but the first three titles on your survey, under “name,” aren’t correct. I mean, yes, those are the common names most people use to refer to the books/plays in question, but they aren’t actually the titles. Shakespeare’s titles were The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark and The Tragedy of Macbeth, and I think both (particularly the latter) would be rather compelling if ever possible to divorce it from our collective cultural consciousness; I think even if we didn’t know who Hamlet was and had never wondered whether to be or not, that title is rather attractive. It’s a tragedy! About a Prince! Of Denmark! Which is exotic! I didn’t even know Denmark has a prince; I just naturally assumed it was part of the European Union and as such a constitutional democracy!

    I couldn’t remember Dickens’ longer title until I looked it up, but it’s The Personal History, Adventures, Experience, and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (which he never meant to publish on any account).

    Which, I mean, come on. That’s genius. Worth it for the final aside alone (which I find hysterical). Also: tell me you couldn’t imagine that title appearing on the front page of the site.

    • James D. Irwin says:

      The best thing about Hamlet is Shakespeare’s total lack of geographical understanding…

      Oh yes… war with…er … where’s close to Denmark… NORWAY! YES!

      Okay… and Poland… that’s near by, right? Let’s throw some Poland in there.

      Also, his understanding of mental illness… brilliant.

      I do love it though.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I think as a dramatist, WS is somewhat overrated, but as a poet and pioneer of the language, he’s unassailable. The “to be” speech is about as good a meditation on suicide anyone could ever hope to write. If suicide were the Mafia, the “to be” speech would be The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos rolled into one. (You have to read the whole thing, though, and not end it with “give us pause”).

        • I always disliked Shakespeare because it always seemed that every single play had an ending where everybody dies.

          But watching Hamlet I got why Shakespeare was so great. My favourite speech in Hamlet is the one I mentioned further up in the thread. Act II Scene II. The bit where ‘amlet ain’t got none of his mirth left.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Shakespeare out-Tarantinos Tarantino, with everyone dying at the end…

        • I always think Shakespeare is unassailable as a poet and pioneer of language simply because he’s a dramatist, but I think I’ll have a post about that one day. Totally agree with you about overrated, but then again I think he’s overrated in the way of, say, the Beatles (whom I’ve never gotten into, mind you); they arguably earn the hype but never will be able to escape it, and can’t be listened to without capital letters.

          And since this’ll show up under James’ reply, I’ll do that here, too; great joke, but that’s the tragedies, which aren’t tragedy because they’re sad but because everybody dies, like the comedies aren’t comedies because they’re funny but rather because everybody gets together in the end. Tragedy and comedy were that era’s genre and had classical forms and structure requirements and notes the audience expected to the degree that they had to be included; Shakespeare wrote for the studio suits probably as much as, if not moreso than, many of Hollywood’s current screenwriters. The problem plays are called that because the problem was they don’t have the genre requirements. Well. That and they’re basically Shakespeare learning how to write, which very few people ever want to acknowledge he had to do. Bradbury said writers have to get down a million words of crap before anything good comes out, but I think Shakespeare was probably only up to half of that by the time of Titus Andronicus, and the rest were working out the kinks. It’s hard to believe the same guy who wrote Lady Macbeth also wrote The Taming of the Shrew.

          And you probably already know all that, but I figure somebody doesn’t. Also, I like talking about Shakespeare as a bad writer, as opposed to as a literary god.

        • I always thought The Beatles were overrated. I liked them but I didn’t fully understand the hype.

          But after watching a ton of documentaries last year I began to understand just why the Beatles are so fucking important. And I guess it’s hard to imagine now just how exciting they would have been in a world that at that time hadn’t really seen anything quite like it.

          And then they went from being basically a boy band to musical pioneers. I don’t like a lot of what the Beatles did— I like maybe 5 tracks from Sgt. Pepper. But they were a band that only existed for 7 years, and in three years they produced four of the most universally acclaimed albums of all time— and that’s without the 4 years of recording history leading up to that period which are timeless examples of perfect pop music which are still as popular today.

          Shakespeare is sort of the same. I don’t like many of his plays, but the ones that are classics are on merit.
          At his best he tells good stories with fantastic use of language.

          However, like The Beatles, he wrote a lot of shite too. Antony an Cleopatra is almost the same story as Romeo and Juliet.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Great comparison, Will, WS to the Beatles. “can’t be listened to without capital letters” = bingo. Perfect way to put it.

          I resisted the Beatles for a long time for that reason, because they keep getting jammed down your throat — and I have long passages in Totally Killer in which one of the characters rips them apart — but they won me over long ago. They really are better than everything else, in a separate category…Lennon & McCartney in the same band is like Ruth & Gehrig in the same lineup. Unfair.

          But I think the early Beatles is eh. Especially the covers. You could probably go through and compare WS’s work to the Beatles, play by play, album by album — although I think WS has more shite (if I may borrow your spelling, Jedi, which I find more charming) in his back catalog that the Liverpudlians do.

          The hype hurts both of them, but they are both, with Charlie Chaplin, “Stairway to Heaven” and Van Gogh, that rarest of commodities: art that deserves the hype.

      • The best thing about Hamlet is–wait, let’s be honest: Hamlet is a rather melancholy git. It’s like Shakespeare took everything he knew writing instructors and their books would one day teach aspiring authors about active protagonizing and decided, “You know what? Not so much. Let’s have a hero who does precisely fuck all but still has trouble deciding whether or not to do it!.” Really, the best part about Hamlet, besides “Get thee to a nunnery” as the ultimate in abusive male douchebaggery, is the moment Hamlet finally gets his hands on a sword and gets to use the blade. It’s very close to a collective sigh of relief through the ages. For being a tragedy, there’s so little blood in Hamlet it’s PG-12; hell, the King, his father, is murdered by way of poisoning in his ear. I’m a scientist by background, took organic chemistry and know the illicit uses of vinegar, but even I don’t know how to poison somebody in the ear.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Will: ear poisoning is covered in The Wrath of Khan.

          The play is worth it because with Hamlet, there can be no Rosencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead. Which, come to think of it, I should have had on my list of great titles…

        • Dude. Awesome. Stoppard is a genius (and had a hand in my fave movie, Shakespeare in Love). One of my great DVD coups was finding a copy. With Gary Oldman and Tim Roth. It’s really, really ridiculously good writing.

          “But we can’t give you love and rhetoric without the blood. Blood is compulsory. They’re all blood, you see.”

          Whose serve?

        • Greg Olear says:

          –The toenails, on the other hand, do not.
          –The toenails, on the other foot, do not.

          I haven’t seen that in awhile. Somewhere I have a pirated DVD, but it may have been misplaced in the move five years ago…I gotta watch it again.

          I’m with you on Shakespeare in Love — funny, well-executed, fun, pretty much brilliant all around.

          I saw Arcadia on Broadway, with Rufus Sewell — also brilliant. And, I mean, it’s about a letter that Lord Byron may or may not have burned.

          Are we really going to play Questions?

        • Were you hoping to avoid filling up the comments here?

        • Greg Olear says:

          Do you have any idea how many times we’d have to go back and forth to catch up to Duke, commentwise?

        • Would that be the goal?

        • Greg Olear says:

          What else would it be?

        • Can’t we think of another?

        • Greg Olear says:

          I read this at the coffeehouse, drove home, and still can’t think of a good response, other than “Can you?” I never was good at this game. And you, sir, are clearly the Yagivny Kafelnikov of Question Tennis.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Have you thought of a better response, Greg?

          Surely you must appreciate my assistance in the catchup game.

          Hamlet is probably my favorite play, incidentally.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m so glad I watched Hamlet over Christmas.

          Never really got the whole theatre thing, or Shakespeare.

          It was a proper production, but with contemporary-ish costumes. It was the latest RSC production.

          It featured Patrick Stewart and David Tennant as Hamlet. Not sure how well known Tennant is over in the US, but he’s an amazing actor. One of my favourites. He also happened to be the last Doctor in Doctor Who.

          Anyway, I totally fell in love with it. I bought a copy of the play the next day. I love just opening it up and reading parts of it. Fantastic use of language.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Duke: I still have not, although I of course appreciate your help. (Although in terms of racking up comments, you playing questions on my comment board is like the hare resting while the tortoise keeps chugging along…except that your hare will not lose the race).

          Jedi: I saw Patrick Stewart play Othello in DC ten years or so ago. He was Othello, and the rest of the cast was black. The guy who played Iago was kind of blah, which spoiled it, unfortunately.

          Also:

          My favorite is Macbeth.

          My favorite line, though, is this: “A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse!” (That line took on a clever tone in the Ian McKellen Richard III — a great film).

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Oh, I’m bound to lose the race one day.

          I think I’d like Macbeth more if I hadn’t had to study it repeatedly in high school. It was apparently the favorite play of every English teacher in Virginia.

          But have you ever seen Polanski’s Macbeth? It’s the best filmed adaptation of Shakespeare ever, in my opinion.

          But the best moment of filmed Shakespeare is, for me, Brando’s “dogs of war” speech in <Julius Caesar. He’s just incredible. A pity he didn’t do more Shakespeare. He really had the gift. John Gielgud, who was also in Julius Caesar and who apparently coached Brando, thought the same.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I’ve seen most of Polanski’s stuff — I love the guy’s work — and his Macbeth is indeed excellent…that the Macduff’s wife scene was shot after the Sharon Tate murder adds to it, perversely, somehow. You can almost feel the catharsis.

          I saw Brando do JC in high school…should probably rent it. The McKellen Richard III is fantastic, the Orson Welles Hamlet has its moments, and the Buz Lerman R&J is inventive. I’m forgetting something obvious…

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yes, the murder of Sharon Tate is often cited as a subtext for that film, though I don’t think Polanski himself ever said so. He made the film thanks to his friend Victor Lownes, who at the time was Hugh Hefner’s second in command at Playboy, which was then trying to establish itself as a film-production company. Polanski needed money, since he’d had to resign from Day of the Dolphin in the aftermath of the murders, and Lownes basically said, Whatever you want to do, we’ll back you. Polanski chose Macbeth, and he filmed it in a particularly bloody way. That couldn’t have been accidental.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I love how you just know stuff like this. And now that you’ve been liberated from concealing your cinematic past, I expect we’ll hear many more.

          I’ll go so far as to suggest that Polanski may not have been consciously aware of the connection. The mind works in strange ways, especially when we grieve.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          Yes, well. Polanski was hooking up within weeks of the murders. I’m not speaking of the infamous Vanity Fair libel case. Polanski was asked by the police during the course of his polygraph test if he was sexually active, and he said yes. But grief famously accelerates libido, as opposed to reducing it, as so many continue to think.

          Thanks for the good word about my knack for useless information, though maybe no information is useless to a novelist. Margaret Mead’s daughter once spoke of following in her mother’s footsteps, and Mead said it wasn’t a good idea; that her daughter wasn’t much of a gossip, and all anthropologists have to be gossips. And so it is with novelists, I’d propose.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Polanski has led one of the more interesting lives, hasn’t he? And squandered what should have been a lifetime supply of public sympathy.

          Love that Mead line! It’s true, I think; we’re like the proverbial old ladies at the sewing circle. Nothing like a juicy gossip morsel to go with dinner.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          You know, I don’t think Polanski ever received much sympathy. I think he was somehow blamed for Sharon Tate’s death, as she was blamed also, and so were the other victims. People don’t want to believe that something so awful could be visited upon them randomly, so the victim has to be held accountable. There are rumors to this day that Polanski or Tate or both had orgies with the Manson family, or did drugs with them, and so on. It’s sickening, or it is to me.

          But has Polanski led one of the most interesting lives of our time? I think so. And it shows no sign of letting up. I mean, he’s in his late seventies now and still making headlines, though I’m sure he’d prefer that he didn’t — not in this way.

        • Ducky says:

          I read somewhere that some of the Manson clan used to party at the house when it belonged to Beatty and that’s how they knew the place. Maybe that’s where the rumor came from.

          And it’s interesting how so many people view this kind of thing as karma. No one deserves to die the way they did – especially Tate.

          Despite his crimes, Polanski makes brilliant films. Death and The Maiden is one of my favs.

        • D.R. Haney says:

          That’s the one Polanski film I’ve never seen, Ducky — or that and Oliver Twist. I wish Netflix hadn’t canceled my account — a ridiculous story. But I agree with you: Polanski is a brilliant director; and Sharon Tate was, by all accounts, sweet to the point of angelic, and most certainly did not deserve to die as she did.

          I don’t believe (but I could be wrong) that Warren Beatty ever lived at the Tate residence, though he undoubtedly visited, since he was friendly with four of the five victims. (In fact, his character in Shampoo was somewhat modeled on Jay Sebring, Tate’s ex-boyfriend who was killed while trying to defend her.) But a number of the Manson people had been to the house before the Polanskis moved in, because of their relationship with the former occupant, Terry Melcher, whom Manson was courting as a record producer. Also, for a few weeks, Dean Moorhouse, whose daughter was one of Manson’s girls, lived in the guest house on the property. It’s said that some of the girls dropped by to go swimming, and Tex Watson, who killed Tate and the others (with some assistance from Susan Atkins and Patricia Krenwinkel), writes in his memoir of visiting Melcher at the house one day and getting the cold shoulder from Melcher’s live-in girlfriend, Candice Bergen. But I don’t think any of the Manson people ever had anything to do with Polanski or Tate, aside from Manson himself, who briefly encountered Tate on the property one day while looking for Melcher. (Tate’s personal photographer spoke to Manson, asking who he was and why was there, but Tate was reportedly silent.) Nor do I believe that anyone in the Family had anything to do with the other victims, prior to the murders. None of the killers have ever said so, and they’ve been giving interviews about the case for forty years now. So I think these various alternative theories, in which the victims are somehow culpable, are a bunch of a malarkey.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Hmm. I guess you’re right, Duke — I always assumed people would view Polanski with enormous sympathy after his pregnant wife was slaughtered by the craziest group of psychos in the last century. But then, ours is a society that allows blowhards like Pat Robertson to spew hatred and ignorance on the major news networks with nary a slap on the wrist.

          Ducky, I totally agree. When I composed my “top ten films” list when that was all the rage — this would have been a good ten years ago, but still — RP had two (Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby) on the list.

          Just peaked at his IMDB page…forgot he did Tess Never saw it, but it’s one of my all-time favorite books. Is it any good?

        • D.R. Haney says:

          But Robertson is now in hot water due to some remarks about Haiti, isn’t he?

          Oh, and Tess is, if I remember correctly, exquisite. But it’s been a while.

        • Greg Olear says:

          Yes, but he was in hot water for his post-911 and Katrina comments, too, and his reputation was not sufficiently scathed.

          Did you happen to see Phat B’s Facebook status update the day Oral Roberts died? “God prepares to receive Oral.” Ha!

    • Greg Olear says:

      Stephanie and I were just remarking that there’s been an absence of Entrekin on these pages of late…happy new year, Will.

      You’re right, of course, about the long Shakespearean titles. Clumsy of me. My favorite of his titles is The Tempest, although that probably has a long title in the folios as well.

      Tell me the ADD thought. I’ve read Brad’s (excellent) book, so you won’t be spoiling it for me. Although you should put SPOILER ALERT in all caps, just in case.

      • Happy New Year to you, too, Greg. I’ve been traveling over the holidays and so haven’t been around as much as I tend to prefer. That said, it sure is nice to have been missed!

        The ADD thought wasn’t, actually; it was a thought related to my own novel. I actually rewrote that part of my comment a couple of times out of uncertainty I was being unclear; obviously I was. It was the moment I thought of the sentence that gave The Prodigal Hour its title. I just hope it gets to keep it.

        I haven’t hit The Tempest yet, although I was getting my first suit altered just before I started teaching at USC and my tailor started quoting Prospero after he derided my own choice for personal favorite Shakespeare (The Tragedy of Macbeth). Prospero is The Tempest, yes? Am I misremembering?

        I usually prefer to watch Shakespeare’s work; he never really intended for us to be reading it, after all.

        • Greg Olear says:

          I like The Prodigal Hour. Certainly intriguing.

          <>The Tempest is my favorite title, but I hold with you — Macbeth (or, rather, The Tragedy of Macbeth) is my favorite of his plays. Mostly because of the witches. I love the witches. For awhile, I had Totally Killer mirror Macbeth so closely that the main character’s name was Beth Mack, but I eventually came to my senses.

          And yes, Prospero is from that. Also Ferdinand and Miranda and Caliban. (What great names he used! But that’s a different post). And the line Huxley uses for his title: “O brave new world that has such people in it.”

        • James D. Irwin says:

          Just went downstairs and found a copy of The Tempest on the kitchen table… very strange…

        • Greg Olear says:

          Alert Smithson.

          Although…he probably already knows!

          [cue creepy music]

  23. Ducky says:

    So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away

    Fun post, Greg. I’d better think up some snazzier titles.

  24. By reading the comments I know I’m waaay late here, Greg! Titles! Ugh! They are the proverbial thorn in my side… which is why all my TNB pieces have had one word titles… anything more just trips me up. Although I suppose if I want more people to read my one word titles I should have chosen more provacative words!! (I need to work on this).

    For The Summer We Fell Apart – Carrie Kania the publisher of Harper came up with the title in the elevator one morning on her way into work. Up until that point we had been through three titles and unfortunately the one we all loved was too similar to a book that was scheduled for pub right before mine… so that was an obvious no…

    Totally Killer, however, is an awesome, awesome title and lends itself to such delicious alliteration…..

    My favorite title? Can’t commit – but I do have a fave line from the movie Igby Goes Down that I have always thought would be great: Slippery When Schizophrenic

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks for the props on TK. I’m quite pleased with the title. I fancy myself good at titles, but I also fancy myself good at other things that ample evidence proves I am not good at.

      I’m enjoying your book, by the way. Haven’t had much time to read — been working on a proposal for Book #2, which has a title I’m enormously pleased with — so I’m only halfway through George. But it’s quite good so far.

  25. *provocative …. ugh!

  26. You should wait a year or so for people to forget this post, and then post it again with a long, offensive title and see how many comments you get. Try: “What the fuck do fucking titles have to do with content, you degenerate swine? Fuck you!” and see how many people read and what their reactions are…

    As for favourite titles, I always liked “Naked Lunch”, although people are always adding thte unnecessary article, “THE”. There’s so much meaning there, although the title came from a misread letter by Jack Kerouac, that suggested the book be named “Naked Lust”. Which then perhaps negates the meaning in “Naked Lunch”…

    • Greg Olear says:

      Ha! Good idea. Since the re-launch, the only piece with “fuck you” in the title, incidentally, is Simon’s ode to 2009, and it is the second most read post of 3.0. So maybe there’s something to it.

      Naked Lunch is a fantastic title. Much better than Naked Lust would have been. Same method as Clapton and Harrison titling “Badge” — one of them misread “bridge” upside down.

  27. Gloria says:

    My two favorite titles ever also happen to come from two of my favorite books ever:

    Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore.

    Actually, I think that if there were an award for most imaginatively named books by a single popular author, Moore would get it. Other Moore titles include: Practical Demonkeeping, Bloodsucking Fiends: A Love Story, Island of the Sequined Love Nun, The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, and The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror.

    I also think The Red Tent (by Anita Diamant) is a great title. It is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite books ever. What I love about the title is that any time I suggest it to a man, he automatically says, “Is it about a bunch of women on their periods?” Which, it’s not. But I love that the title gets that response. The phrase means something to so many people.

    Also, for the record, Tom Robbins tends to title his books well. (Holy crap! I just looked him up on wikipedia – he’s 73!! What?)

    • Greg Olear says:

      I can’t argue with that. I think we have a winner in Biff.

      I know there’s no way to keep stats on such things, but it’d be interesting to see which books were read almost exclusively by one gender or the other…my guess is, 98% of the readers of Diamant’s book (which my wife loves, as does everyone else who’s read it) are ladies.

  28. Matt says:

    I’m away from the house and don’t have any of my books/DVDs/albums in front of me, but off the top of my head:

    The Girl in the Flammeable Skirt
    The Devil in the White City
    Special Topics in Calamity Physics (which I bought on the basis of that title at a library sale $1-turned out to be a good buy)
    The Left Hand of Darkness
    A Scanner Darkly
    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
    The Yiddish Policemen’s Union
    The Day of the Locust
    Two Years Before the Mast
    The Big Sleep
    Where The Truth Lies
    The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, Her Lover
    As I Lay Dying (I have mixed feelings about the book, that’s a great title.)
    This Tornado Loves You
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    The Hurt Locker
    Disgrace

    I’m sure the moment I get home and take a look at my stuff I’ll be hit with a dozen more.

    The working title of my first (failed) novel is Patchwork Monkeys. The current one is being written under the title Gentlemen of Opportunity, but I’m growing more partial to Tigers in the Night.

    (Sorry about coming to this so late. Been a bit busy)

    • Greg Olear says:

      The Big Sleep is one of my favorites, for sure — one of my favorite books and favorite titles. Chandler had a way with words.

      I like Gentlemen of Opportunity, actually. Makes me want to know what that means.

      • Matt says:

        I’ll email you an explanation later. Actually, the more I look at it there on screen, the more it begins to appeal to me again. Granted, I’m saving final decisions on that until the manuscript is completed; right now it’s still in the early plotting & research stages.

        • Greg Olear says:

          They’re pretty adept at changing titles…in my case, it worked for the better.

          I’m almost ready to reveal the title for Book #2, which is one that they wouldn’t dream of changing…

      • James D. Irwin says:

        The Big Sleep is a perfect title. I love the book too. I went through a phase where I just read Raymond Chandler novels for about a month. As a result they all sort of merge in my mind a little.

        Patchwork Monkeys and Gentleman of Opportunity sound awesome.

        • Matt says:

          Dude, if your Twitter account hasn’t been deleted, log in and go to my stream. Scroll back about a week or so. I went off on a Tweetrant about Patchwork Monkeys for about an hour. Read the manuscript for the first time in a year, and discovered I really didn’t like it. There’s some good writing in it, but the book just doesn’t hold water at all.

          Ah well. At least now that first “bad novel” is out of my system, and I can get on with better things.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’ll have to check that out.

          Today I’ve been going over CCB and fixing A LOT of typos.

          I am in turns laughing and cringing as I read it. There was one chapter with a severe over-use of the word ‘fuck’ which was just embarassing…

        • Greg Olear says:

          Can that word ever be overused?

          Have you seen “The Wire” yet? There’s a great scene in the first season where McNulty and Bunk investigate a crime scene, and communicate using only the word “fuck.”

        • James D. Irwin says:

          It can in prose, I think. It just came off as very amateur. Like ‘look at me, I’m a big man writing a novel and using big adult words!’

          I haven’t seen The Wire yet, but I got my brother season one for Xmas, so I’m hoping I can see it soon. I’ve seen the first 10 minutes if the pilot episode and I was enjoying it immensely…

          However right now I’m hooked on ’70s episodes of Doctor Who, which is about as British as television can get. It’s from the era where Douglas Adams was heavily involved— either as script writer or script editor. I’m also reading ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.’ Which actually, is quite a good title…

        • Greg Olear says:

          I was only joking about the f-bombs. I try to limit them in my writing, to make them more effective when they are used. My characters swear, but my narrators tend to be more highbrow than that. More challenging that way.

          Agree on Dirk Gently.

        • James D. Irwin says:

          I’m trying to limit swearing generally. I used to swear quite a lot, I still do but now I use weaker, more British language that never sounds quite as offensive.

          I don’t think CCB contains all that much swearing.

          I refused to read Dirk Gently for a long time because I didn’t like the title and also worried that I’d read it and not like it as much as THHGTTG. I don’t, but that’s more to do with how much I love THHGTTG.

          The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul is another good title. I’d also have picked that up based on the blurb alone…

      • Gloria says:

        In college, I took Film Noir and Detective Fiction. These were two of my absolute favorite classes. All of those pulp novels from the 30’s and 40’s have great titles: The Maltese Falcon, The Glass Key, The Night of the Hunter. Patricia Highsmith got it right with The Talented Mr. Ripley too. I think having the word “talented” in your title is a benefit.

  29. […] 2. Eponymous, Yours Truly […]

  30. D.R. Haney says:

    I wonder, by the way: Did Megan DiLullo ever see this post?

  31. Darian Arky says:

    I hate the whole idea of “Prague”, and I’d hate it even more if it was set in Prague.

  32. I don’t know about everybody else, but “Totally Killer” is as decent a title as I’ve ever heard.

  33. Autumn says:

    I love laying down titles…its the rest of the work that sucks for me. I’m way better at writing a title than an actual story.

    A short list of titles I loved:

    Lord of the Flies
    The Town that Forgot How to Breathe
    In Cold Blood
    The Wasp Factory
    Dermaphoria (its just fun to say!)
    Out Stealing Horses
    The Cement Garden
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
    Last Night in Twisted River (good title, so-so book)

    To be honest, despite my love of “titling” things, I often choose books based on cover design. I really do judge a book by its cover.

    • Greg Olear says:

      Yet another reason why you’re cut out to be an editor, as you suggested recently…editors are generally better at titles than novelists are.

      Hmmm. “Best covers” is a whole other post…

  34. Garrett Socol says:

    I love this piece!

    Favorite book titles that quickly come to mind:

    The Kid Stays in the Picture
    More, Now, Again
    Eats, Shoots & Leaves
    Valley of the Dolls (never mind the quality of the book itself)

    I love looking back at titles that almost were. Studio execs hated Hitchcock’s title, Vertigo. They wanted to call the movie Face in the Shadow. Other potential titles were My Madeleine, The Dark Tower, Don’t Leave Me, Too Late My Love, and Steps on the Stairs. (Yep, Steps on the Stairs! Huh?)

    I’m calling my first collection of short stories (to be published next year by Ampersand Books):
    Ear of Lettuce, Head of Corn.
    Any reaction? (Keep in the mind most of the stories are rather quirky.)

    • Greg Olear says:

      Thanks, Garrett.

      Steps on the Stairs? Wow. That’s horrifically bad. Hitchcock always had good titles, come to think. And yes! Valley of the Dolls. Brilliant title.

      Your title is definitely a clever one…plus I’m a big fan of the comma in the title. The main drawback is, people might misremember it (to borrow a Dubya term) when ordering it at the bookstore, which means they are ordering it at a bookstore, which is a nice problem to have. Good luck with it, and keep us posted!

  35. […] Financial Lives of the Poets is one of my favorite titles of all time—although when I first heard about it, I assumed it concerned Byron, Shelley, and an […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *