As you can see with the title of this post, my level in the craft of titling is as the one of shrieking monkey. Also, if you visit the section on my books (CAREFUL: undercover fragment of self-promoting) you can confirm that I’m not quite gifted. The first one is titled after a U2 song (hello?), the second, the children book, the one in French, has the best one but wasn’t chosen by me, as you can imagine my ability to play with words in French is, anyway, and the third one is a verse stolen to Jaime Gil de Biedma, it’s nice and suggestive but it doesn’t really make it.
Probably it’s something that goes with taste, given that we live in the bloody relativism century, but when someone sees a good title he acknowledges it and shuts up, and that’s that. You won’t find anyone that will tell you titling is not important, may it be a book, a post, a PhD, your nouvelle-cuisine dish, your show, your film, your dog or whatever you’re thinking of. As it follows, I will try to make a listing on the different ways to title a book.
1. The poet title.
Poets, as a rule, write beautifully but, as a rule too, have no freaking idea how to title. They usually make frugal titles, many times just one word, sometimes two, but one of the two an article, and some, the bravest, make a leap into the three word world. They are something like: the solitude, the wind, the night. Horribilis. There are always some exceptions, some good titles within this style: North from S. Heaney or Geography III by E. Bishop or if you don’t want only 20th century authors, The Solitudes by Gongora, (watch out: it’s not the same The Solitude than The Solitudes, the plural of the word against the loneliness condition of its concept makes the crack).
2. The long title (though we don’t know what exactly long stands for).
The long title is the trick title, the one that always works, it may be the biggest nonsense you’ve ever thought, it doesn’t matter, it will work. Try, try at home my little kids, no danger, try, for example, you can create: ‘The Dinner is cold and the microwaves has broken’, or, ‘The Kiss That You Gave Me That Afternoon of June ’73 Under The Black Poplar of the School Playground I Haven’t Forgotten It Yet’, you see? Now seriously, for example we have Hemingway with Across the River and into the Trees, or the funny David Sedaris, an expert in this style with Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim or Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Again, if you want an example from the 16th century we can try the Spanish classic Life of Lazarillo De Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities, though you might argue, that the Anonymous that wrote it back then, shared more with the 21st century than many nowadays authors. The bad side of the long titles is that you have to fill them with something decent, it’s easy for somebody to say – So much title for nothing! – Here I leave you the cover of the longest title in the world:
3. The metaphoric title
The metaphoric title is built on a metaphor. This is quite straight forward. We have our lovely Emily, the most charming of the Brontë sisters, with her Wuthering Heights, or The Garden of Eden of Hemingway or Pale Fire by Nabokov. This is a quite common one. As you can imagine there is no pale fire, nor garden of Eden no wuthering heights in those books. There is not, but there is.
4. The title with two nouns.
This is one of my favourites, Russian title!: Crime and punishment by Dostoyevski, War and Peace by Tolstoi. But we can also find them everywhere, Sound and the Fury by Faulkner, Pride and Prejudice from my lovely Austen, The Old Man and the Sea, Hemingway again, The City and the Dogs, Nobel prize, Mario Vargas Llosa. You can also call it mouth-filler title, because as you say it your mouth fills up, they work just like a punch in the stomach, like the silence after the thunderclap. There’s authors like C. S. Lewis that go further into the wild and try with titles of three nouns, like one of his Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (yes, I know, what is the wardrobe doing with the witch and the lion? Who know).
The lion and the witch finally coming out of the wardrobe.
5. The title with a proper noun
Ok, lets see, I will guess the first one you’ve thought: Lolita by Nabokov. Or maybe it’s Anna Karenina, by Tolstoy. Is it Ulysses by Joyce? Maybe it’s the Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain, Macbeth, Jane Eyre, Emma, Madame Bovary, Woyzeck, Mrs Dalloway, or maybe, yes, there you go, maybe you were thinking of Harry Potter. Goodreads, the bookworm friendly social network has a list for us.
6. The title with weird word.
The title with weird word is rare but efficient, it’s efficient because it causes the ‘What the f*?’ effect that draws us into the book inevitably. Some are invented, some are just not common. Very famous is The Aleph by Borges. We also have Stories of Cronopios and Fames by Cortázar or Los pichiciegos (Malvinas Requiem) by Fogwill. Yes, it seems an exclusively Argentinian genre, it probably is.
7. The clashing title.
The clashing title is the one that creates a conflict between two concepts brought together, which causes an attractive mystery. For example, This Side of Paradise of Fitzgerald, making us think of the possibility of Paradise having a side, The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, introducing that “also” in the title as if there was something bigger than the sun that could rise. A Cold Spring by E. Bishop. Some as simple as listing, like the book of poems of Mark Strand, Chicken, Shadow, Moon & More.
Universal Literature is riddled with good titles and good writers. There are two that I can think off right now that I feel that succeeded in all of their titles. The first one is Borges. Only looking at his stories collections we have: Universal History of Iniquity (long title an clashing title), Fictions (poet title, there’s something of making plural something that is expected to be singular that always works), The Aleph (title with weird word), Dr. Brodies report (title with proper name), The Book of Sand (clashing title), The memory of Shakepeare (title with proper name). No miss.
The second writer in which I think is Bernard-Marie Koltès, the French playwright. He didn’t publish a lot of plays but all were perfectly titled, above all those long titles which he poeticized, making them extremely evocative. Heritage (poet title), Sallinger (title withproper noun), Black battles with Dogs (metaphor title), The Night Just Before the Forests (long title), In the Solitude of Cotton Fields (long title), Tabataba (title with weird word), Return to the Desert (clashing title), Roberto Zucco (title with proper noun).
I would love to write a book of titles, the problem is that afterwards I would feel I have to write the books. Ay.