Sunday, September 19, 2010

Catch-18*

Just as you should never really judge a book by its cover (though of course we all do) you should also never judge a book by its title (though again: of course). I do know for a fact that there is a book out that discusses the original titles of books before they were changed into famous book titles, such as Trimalchio in West Egg being the original title for The Great Gatsby. How I know this is that the author of this book was a guest on that public radio show in New York City I once worked for. This was at a time when books like this really were able to be published with ease. And the book actually had a publicity team behind it.

Anyway. One of the absolute best titles of a book I can think of (which is also an excellent book) is Alice Mattison's book of intersecting stories called Men Giving Money, Women Yelling. I mean, jeez, you practically don't even have to read the book. You can buy it and just admire that title every single time you look at the cover. Some titles, like Infinite Jest, for example, sound cool and seem important. Or then there are titles like Roddy Doyle's The Woman Who Walked Into Doors and even Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which are wordy and evocative. In that category there is, of course, Raymond Carver's Will You Please Be Quiet Please?, which is a title that is very pleasing to say.

I find that one-word book titles don't really say enough, even though for bands that seems to be a fine way to go. The following are all good books, but they sound so ordinary: Jazz, Away, Intuition, Middlesex. The exception to this is Mary Roach's Stiff, a hilarious book about human cadavers.

There may actually be books that I have not read simply due to their titles, but I can't come up with any now. Well, here's one: Thermodynamics and an Introduction to Thermostatistics.

Whenever I think about writing a book, I actually like to think about the title most of all. I mean, then you’d just have to write the book, right? I’ve come up with Someone Else’s Weekend (there's nothing wrong with using a song lyric as a title, right, Brett Easton Ellis?), but as of yet I have not written that particular book. Somehow the title is almost too good for what I've been planning to write. It's getting me way too distracted. As far as I’m concerned, that particular title is up for grabs.

* The original title of Catch-22

4 comments:

Hope Perlman, aka Ms.Hap said...

Funny!
And informative. Catch-18? Come on, you're kidding, right?

Reyna said...

Nope. It's totally true. Leon Uris had earlier published the book Mila 18, also a WWII novel, and Heller's agent didn't want people to confuse them.

Anonymous said...

One of my all-time favorite titles for a story collection, or really for any book, belongs to one of two collections by the late Karl Edward Wagner, who gained something of a cult following. This title also derives from lyrics to a popular song. The title is Why Not You and I?
-- Michael Washburn

SZ said...

I would like to read Someone Else's Weekend. Get on it!

Some more great book titles: Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley and another one by David Foster Wallace, A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again.

The book I'm reading now has a lousy title: Family Happiness by Laurie Colwin. It sounds like a special at a Chinese restaurant. That said, it's a good read (so far -- I'm on page 28).