Monday, August 1, 2011

5 Best Books: Horrible Titles

5 Best Books is a weekly meme hosted by Cassandra at her blog, INDIE READER HOUSTON. Each week we're given a new subject for which we must come up with 5 Best Book choices. This week the subject is Horrible Titles. So it's 5 Best Horrible Titles. Wait, that doesn't sound right. Oh, you know what I mean. Okay, how about 5 Best Books with Horrible Titles. That changes it a bit.
How about a combo?

Here's my list although I'm sure I'll think of many more horrid titles once I publish these. I guarantee there are hundreds, probably thousands. Ha! 


1)  HAVE HIS CARCASE by Dorothy L. Sayers.

I've never liked this title. I don't care what poetry it's based on. When you look at it, you always want to say: Car Case. I know it is meant for carcass, but I still get disconcerted whenever I see it. I also never liked Harriet Vane much, so the book has a double whammy going for it. Still a good mystery, though and any Peter Wimsey is better than none.

2) THE DAUGHTER OF TIME by Josephine Tey

A title that works against a memorable novel - a mystery classic. I'm forever having to explain it when I recommend the book. "Truth is the daughter of time." Get it? (Not that it makes much sense either/or. Then what is the son of time? A bunch of lies?) The title makes the book sound too much like some feminine romance sort of tale and that's really not the case at all.

Scotland Yard Inspector Alan Grant is in hospital with a broken leg and bored out of his skull. A friend brings him some books and Grant gets caught up in the story of Henry III, the usurper King and supposed murderer of the famous two young princes in the tower. Through reasoning and excellent detective work - all from the hospital bed - Grant proves that the truth was just the opposite. Richard III was the victim of his many enemies. A brilliant book.

3) THE HIGH WINDOW by Raymond Chandler

A good Phillip Marlowe book practically ruined by a boring title. From what I understand, Chandler wanted to call the book, THE BRASHER DOUBLOON (the story is about a stolen rare coin and murder) but the publisher thought 'brasher' sounded too much like 'brassiere' - yeah, I know. Sometimes you just have to shake your head. So, THE HIGH WINDOW it became. Funny - when the film was made, they went back to the original title. Go figure.

4) OF TIME AND THE RIVER by Thomas Wolfe

I've always thought this title too impossibly highfaluting, grandiose and just a little bit silly. But Wolfe was a grandiose writer to begin with so I can't really blame him much. LOOK HOMEWARD, ANGEL - the Wolfe novel I love and remember best - well, vaguely - is one of the books that influenced me most when I was in high school, but even that title wasn't so great.  OF TIME AND THE RIVER just never called out to me.

5) CAN YOU FORGIVE HER? by Anthony Trollope

I've never read this Victorian classic though I've been meaning to for ages. A friend gave me a nice hardcover Everyman's Library copy and I love holding it. I do plan on reading it this year. But that title, that title! When I first saw it I though it was a joke. I still do.


I'll tell you what other titles annoy me: One word titles. Unless the word is somehow interesting all by itself.  One I do like: PERSUADER by Lee Child. Why? Cause the word is interesting and calls to mind several possibilities. I also like PERSUASION by Jane Austen. So maybe it's the similar meaning I like. But I think it's actually the 'look' of the word that pleases me. One of many I don't like: ACTOR by Parnell Hall. I mean, huh? (Though I loved the book itself - it's a Stanley Hastings mystery.)

I'm also not overly fond of two word titles unless it's the name of a character or setting and the name is interesting in and of itself. Like, for instance, JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte or ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz or BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh. Another two word title I love: MILDRED PIERCED by Stuart Kaminsky. (Yes Joan Crawford is in this one - it's a Toby Peters mystery.)

I also don't like two word titles in which the first word ends in 'ing'. It's an unreasonable quirk of mine. For instance as in, EDUCATING RITA, or FORCING AMARYLLIS or LOVING so and so, or KILLING so and so, or CHASING so and so and so on and so on. That sort of thing usually means the book may not be read by yours truly.

The worst title ever? Off the top of my head I'd pick: A BOOK by Desi Arnaz. Talk about hubris.

My favorite titles are usually multi-word ones like: RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE by Zane Grey. THE WOODEN LEG OF INSPECTOR ANDERS by Marshall Browne. WHO IN HELL IS WANDA FUCA? by G.M. Ford. MURDER IN MESOPOTAMIA by Agatha Christie. THE WELL OF LOST PLOTS by Jasper Fforde. THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES by Arthur Conan Doyle. That sort of thing.

What about you? Do you have any title don'ts? What are your five 'worsts'?


  1. I don't know if I can come up with five, but I do know my least favorite title of all time -- Why Are We In VietNam? by Norman Mailer. The title makes the book sounds like one of his non-fiction polemics, and a particularly dated one now. It is in fact a work of fiction about two slacker teenagers who go to Alaska to hunt a bear, and reads like William Faulkner on acid. Mailer was a very hit or miss writer to begin with (turning out four disasters for every classic), it's a shame he buried one of the best things he ever wrote with a title that instantly consigns the book to the remainder bin. But, you know, that was his ego getting the better of him, not unusual for him, I'm afraid.

    If I think of any others, I'll stop by again.

  2. m.m. That Mailer title sounds like a textbook thing. I've never read Mailer, too much the case of me not liking the man and being umable to get past that to read his work.

  3. m.m. And by the way, do please drop around any time you like. :)

  4. I am hopeless at coming up with my own exampless, but I think your choices are excellent (even though I like Harriet Vane).

    And The Well of Lost Plots - what a marvellous title :)

  5. I think we are very much on the same page with our title rules. Odd Thomas is one of the most interesting character names/titles to come around in a long time, and for some reason it does not bother me that each new book has Odd in the title.

    The books in your 5 best horrible (?) list are all truly horrible. Well chosen.

    Now, off to plan next week's list.

  6. How about all those titles in which the main female character of the book is defined by some dude? The Time Traveler's Wife (and I loved that book), the memory keeper's daughter, etc.

    The titles of all the books in your list...pretty terrible. I can't look at "Can You Forgive Her?" without thinking it's a joke, either.

  7. Dorte: It's hard to jiggle the old memory, especially when, like most of us, we've read so many books over the years.

    Jasper Fforde is great at coming up with good titles most of the time.

  8. Cassandra: But I do like MOBY DICK! I know, I know, I am beyond recall. Ha! Never read the book though I've tried and failed several times. But the title has always intrigued me. :)

  9. Ellen: And yet I'm going to read the Trollope book anyway, even with that ridiculously melodramatic question for a title.

    Yes, Ellen, I agree about those sorts of titles too: The so and so's daughter, sister, wife, etc.

    How come it's never The so and so's uncle?

    With that sort of title I pretty much know it's going to be a book club sort of book.

  10. I love "It" by Stephen King--perfect.

    The Postman Always Rings Twice is not a good title, although it's come to have some meaning because it got famous.

  11. Scott: Thanks for dropping by. :)

    Yes, "IT" is a great example of a one word title that works.

    And you're right, THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE is a bad title made acceptable because of familiarity. (I still don't like it, though.)

  12. I love that your all-time worst title is so close to one of mine. And you're right: one word titles are generally annoying...

    Here are my picks:

  13. Bev: I also can't stand titles that are difficult to pronounce. I mean, what is the author thinking when you have to do all sorts of mental convolutions to ask for a book in the store or even to spell it out online.

  14. RE: Can You Forgive Her? The title IS a joke--I am reading it right now, and it makes me want to have a day with 9 hours just to read. Delightful, sharp and light at the same time. Trollope was a master.

  15. Healigan: This will be my first Trollope read. I had a friend (she's since passed away) who belonged to a Trollope society and went to all the meetings and even traveled to England one year for an international meeting. Now that's what I call a fan. She sent me a couple of Trollope books and I mean to read them this year.

    Thanks for letting me know about the this particular title. It really does sound like a joke. So maybe the joke's on me. Ha!

  16. There aren't really titles that bother me, really. I'd have to ponder this topic seriously.

    Moreover, what bothers me more and more is the lack of books at the library. I just found out, after waiting for months, that Yrsa Sigurdadottir's 3rd book is only noncirculating. She's the only Icelandic woman mystery writer published which the U.S. gets. And she's so well-liked.

    Another series set in Brazil is gone except for one book. So many global books are not even there at all. And my budget is limited.

    That's my pet peeve. There are tons of dvd's and they're taking over the library branch I visit. Aren't libraries supposed to focus on READING, helped children get an education, helping adults get books to enjoy -- and not have to purchase.

  17. Kathy: It's the way the world is going. Less books more electronic crap.

    My library is pretty good about getting me the books I want to read. But I can see how the more 'exotic' titles might be hard to come by.

    It's a shame.


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