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.

 

December 25 marks a milestone at The Nervous Breakdown: the fortieth day of the existence of TNB 3.0. If the revamped site were the Ark, the dove would fly back with an olive leaf in its mouth. Or a sample from the bag of Jessica Blau’s “lemons.” Or a beanie Zoë Brock found on the side of the road in Frisco. Or…but you get the idea.

I feel like this momentous occasion should be commemorated by something other than the exchange of presents and spiked eggnog. Perhaps Megan DiLullo can organize a podcast? Or, better yet, a photo montage of TNBers dressed like Bond girls? (An editorial suggestion for Megan and Erika: next time, get the girls to wear the bikinis).

It’s been a month in which our contributors have displayed feats of tremendous bravery: David Wills swam with sharks. Matt Baldwin hiked with bear. Simon Smithson jumped off a tall building. Ben Loory stole money from Demi Moore. Don Mitchell wore tighty-whities.

J.E. Fishman is serializing his novel, Cadaver Blues. Between Cadaver and Cactus City, there’s a lot of blues going on at TNB. I hope 2010 is a happier year for everyone.

Richard Cox wrote a cool piece about the hoopla surrounded the Tiger Woods imbroglio, which—because we are above it here on this blog—somehow descended into a debate about the literary merits of Jonathan Franzen. The Corrections, it appears, refers to what Woods did to his swing a few years back.

Our Fearless Leader returned from blog post exile, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, Welcome back, Brad Listi. His piece, “You Lost Me At Hello,” was treated like the release of Chinese Democracy—top of the charts, top of the comment numbers—the only difference being that Brad’s post is good.

Someone named Darian Arky started writing for us from his redoubt in Prague. According to his dossier, he works for the State Department. How naïve do you think we are, man? I’ve read enough James Ellroy books to know that if a dude claims to work for the State Department, he’s really out there gathering intelligence, handling sources, and slipping Cold Ethyl into the Chivas of enemies of the state. I’m not sure what Arky is up to—other than contributing great pieces and leaving lots of comments on everyone else’s—but I find it curious that as soon as he shows up, Justin Benton vanishes.

Whether or not Darian Arky is an actual person, Darian Arky is a cool name. That seems to be a criterion for letting new writers on the site. Check out these new peeps: Gwenda Bond, Doreen Orion, Nathaniel Missildine, and Jeffrey Pillow all join Autumn Kindelspire, Slade Ham, and Will Entrekin in the Cool Name Hall of Fame.

(Alison Aucoin is a cool name, too, except that I have no idea how to pronounce it. Oh-KWAN? OH-cun? Oh-CYOON? Alison, please enlighten us).

The forty days have included lots of great stuff—if I neglected to mention you specifically, it’s not because I don’t like you, but because my daughter is yelling at me from downstairs to give her gum, so my attentions are diverted—but I’ve especially enjoyed the content from LitPark and 3G1B and WordHustler, as well as the fact that my kids routinely appear on View From Your Phone.

My favorite piece of the first forty days, however—other than my own self-interview, of course—is the trilogy submitted by Gina Frangello about her father. A must-read, it says here.

Happy holidays, folks. May 2010 be the year in which all your dreams come true…and the year in which we drop the idiotic “two-thousand” business and start saying “twenty-ten.”