Besides writing I am much more hooked in reading. And having a degree in Literature gave me the opportunity to browse through virtually all sorts of literature and read countless books. Even now, despite outrageous demands from my job, I still make it certain to grab some time to indulge in reading every single day. In fact, I might forget to carry a phone with me but never a book wherever I go. That’s just me.
And talking about judging an actual book by its cover (yes, its cover alone without reading through the synopsis usually written at the back side of it) is one thing I actually do.
As we’re all aware of, Twitter demands the news of the day be condensed into 140 characters. In order to squeeze in our pithy commentary, we crop and substitute, abbreviate and summarize. Yet Leo Tolstoy was able to use just three words to frame his 1,225-page novel ‘War and Peace’, while a book that continues to influence political discourse after more than half a century carries the four-character title of ‘1984’.
In the space of just a few words or even numbers, the titles of books can capture the mood, theme and style of the stories within. More than once, I have been persuaded to buy a book simply as a result of the poetry of its title.
The first time that I remember being won over in this way was when I saw ‘Love in the Time of Cholera’ on a bookshelf. It seemed to me that the title was a profound and beautiful statement in itself. Happily, I enjoyed the book in its entirety and it provided a gateway for me into Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s body of work, including the other gorgeously-titled ‘Cien años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude)’
I consider a book title to be a window into its interior. It can be whimsical or terse, evocative or opaque. And sometimes, it is the simple rather than the prosaic, which best tells the story.
Titles are much more than just words — they shape our expectations, reflect a book’s character, and help cement a story in our memories.
Author John Irving spoke about the significance of titles when he discussed the order in which he crafts a novel: “Titles are important, I have them before I have books that belong to them. I have last chapters in my mind before I see first chapters, too. I usually begin with endings, with a sense of aftermath, of dust settling, of epilogue.”
However, titles were not as much of a driving force for writer Judy Blume, author of the memorably titled ‘Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret’, who said: “I always have trouble with titles for my books. I usually have no title until the editor has to present the book and calls me frantically, ‘Judy, we need a title’.”
More so, the power of a title becomes clear when considering the impact of an alternative title for a well-loved book. Some of the other titles under consideration by F Scott Fitzgerald for what was later to become ‘The Great Gatsby’ included ‘Among the Ash Heaps and Millionaires’, ‘Trimalchio in West Egg’ and ‘Trimalchio’. Would the book, considered by some to be the great American novel, be as enduringly popular if it had been given its original name?
It is doubtful whether ‘Gone with the Wind’ would have captured quite as many hearts if Margaret Mitchell had stuck with her original title ‘Mules in Horses’ Harness’.
What is clear is that titles are much more than just words — they shape our expectations, reflect a book’s character, and help cement a story in our memories. At their best, they can capture the reader’s imagination, before they even open the first page.
How about you? What is your favorite book title? Here are some of my favorites:
The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck
The Fault in Our Stars, John Green
Where Angels Fear to Tread, E.M. Forster
If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, Jon McGregor
Photo credits: Google photos