Despite being told not to judge a book by its cover we often end up doing so. But why is it that people rarely warn about picking a book by its title? More often than not the title comes from the author whereas the covers are created by the publisher. We invariably end up agonising over titles and names and so we know the value of the interesting and intriguing book titles that abound.
Many books are simply named after a character like, Emma, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick, Marley etc. and it’s worked well for them. Some are named after places in the book like Wuthering Hights, Jurassic Park and the magically named Neverwhere and that seems to work too. Another favourite are the Shakespearean titles which seem to work well for the murder mysteries and Agatha Christie seems to have picked the maximum number of these. Even Dorothy L. Sayers and Ruth Rendall have been swayed by the appeal of naming their books in the same way.
We particularly like the titles that are inventive and are not only catchy but mean more after reading the book. We recently read Donna Leon’s ‘The Waters of Eternal Youth’ and were fascinated how a phrase which refers to something desirable has a very negative implication in the book. We realised it refers to an acquaphobic who was attacked and fell into a canal in Venice and since remained mentally fixed at the age of sixteen.
We especially admire authors who come up with fascinating titles book after book in a series. Douglas Adams tops the list with The Hitchhikers series. Who wouldn’t want to pick up a book titled ‘A Restaurant at the End of the Universe’or ‘So Long and Thanks for all the Fish’. Alexander McCall Smith’s the Sunday Philosophy Club series has titles like ‘The Careful Use of Compliments’ and ‘The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds’ just to mention a few. The there is Alan Bradley with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ etc. One of the most beloved titles that just encapsulates the entire book and the book lives up to promise of its title is Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals.
We especially love the magical and quirky titles like ‘Five Quarters of an Orange’ by Joanne Harris, ‘The Kitchen God’s Wife’ by Amy Tan and ‘I Shall Wear Midnight’ by Terry Pratchett.
In our experience, sometimes judging a book by its title is totally worth it. If nothing else, we end up learning a great quote from some obscure earlier work or poem.