Wednesday, April 19, 2006

No Lemons, Thank You

While out hunting down links, I came across an amusing article written by Sarah Stodola on The Top Ten Novel Titles of All Time. Amusing not as in written that way, as the lady is obviously in earnest (okay, maybe she was joking) but in that I've not read a single book on the list. They're all great works of literature, I'm sure.

All right, I'm not an utter Philistine; I did read a couple of the honorable mentions. The Name of the Rose rocked, as did Sense and Sensibility.

Thing is, I don't think any of these great titles are really all that great. Lemon? That's something we all try not to buy from the car salesman. Atlas Shrugged? I'm sure Atlas also reached back and scratched his ass sometime, too, but I wouldn't title my book after it. The Sun Also Rises? Wow, really? It doesn't just set? Who knew?

If you want to qualify for my list of the ten greatest titles of all time, you can't trade on your literary status. And you've got to give me a little more than body language, sunshine and fruit.

I don't think I could do a greatest list -- there are too many terrific titles out there -- but here are some that left a deep impression on me:

Diplomacy of Wolves: Not only is this a great title, but it's the novel in three words, and I will envy it for eternity. By Holly Lisle.

No Victor, No Vanquished: The title of Edgar O'Ballance's study of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. This title actually made me buy this book.

The Sea Remembers: Peter Throckmorton's big book on shipwrecks and archaeology from Homer's Greece to the rediscovery of the titanic. It's beautiful and sad and a chilling reminder.

Cats in Cyberspace: the only title for Beth Hilgartner's novel, told from the POV of two computer-savvy house cats (I wrote the intro to this one so I'm a little prejudiced.)

Got any world's greatest title contenders of your own?


  1. Anonymous1:17 AM

    Snow Falling On Cedars. So evocative.

  2. I've always admired Dick Francis' titles. There is something in them that is at once utterly simple and yet truly, deep down, what the novel is about. I know a lot of authors try to achieve this balance, but I think Francis succeeded more often than others do. But that's just me.

    I'm sure there's more "great titles" for me lurking about the cobwebs in the nooks and crannies of my brain, but it's late at night and they must be asleep. They're definitely not coming out to say hello right now, that's for sure.

  3. I like clever titles, but not if they've been twisted so far out of shape that they no longer make sense.
    Check out some of UK author Robert Rankin's books for really funny gags. E.g.
    Sex, Drugs and Sausage Rolls
    Web Site Story
    The Fandom of the Operator

    However, name is one thing... I'm more interested in what happens when you get between the covers with your choice.

  4. My problem is that I never remember titles. Authors, yes. Titles, no.

    What was the last PREY book I read? Couldn't tell you. But I can tell you that John Sandford wrote it.

    The latest Harry Bosch? Hmmm, the name escapes me. But Connelly is a master.

    I can't even remember the name of that terrific science fiction book I recently read, but I can damn well tell you that S.L. Viehl wrote it.

    And, in the end, isn't that all that matters?

  5. Anonymous6:56 AM

    Seems to me a great big list of non-science fiction and non-fantasy.


    What about "A Clockwork Orange", or "1984", or "Lord Foul's Bane", or . . .

    Yeah, my list would be way different.

    And no Lovecraft either. At least she could have listed "At the Mountains of Madness."

    I'm just bitter, like lemons I guess.

    Or is that tart? Can a guy be tart?

  6. Anonymous7:09 AM

    I fall in love with titles easily; a good number of the books on my bookshelves and my Amazon wish list are there because of their titles.

    Some favorites off the top of my head:

    A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

    Any Small Thing Can Save You: A Bestiary

    Old Man's War

    The Chains That You Refuse

    Or All the Seas With Oysters

    We Have Always Lived in the Castle

  7. I'm awful at remembering titles, unless they are on my keeper shelf.

    One of the best titles I've seen lately is dates from hell, a paranormal romance anthology. And i bought just cuz i loved the idea the title invokes.

  8. Anonymous8:18 AM

    It's weird, I put so much time into coming up with my own titles, but I don't pay too much attention to the titles of the books I read. I had to stop when I read the question and wonder what titles HAVE I considered amazing?

    Some of Alan Dean Foster's stand out, mostly because a number of them continue to remain unpronounceable to me (but I'm not sure that makes them good titles). I love For Love of Mother-Not, though. It works beautifully for the story, and it's just always captured me.

    Robin Cook's Contagion made me pick up the book (but, then again, I'm fascinated by viruses *-*).

    And, for some reason, All Quiet on the Western Front has always stuck with me, even though I didn't particularly enjoy the book.

  9. Anonymous9:40 AM

    I really like "Atlas Shrugged" as a title, though your comment made me laugh, PBW.

    Let's see. "Les Miserables." "The Naked and the Dead." "A Man In Full." (fun to say.) "The Prisoner of Azkaban," believe it or not--also fun to say.

  10. Anonymous10:08 AM

    "angel's gate" -- it's always captured me, and it fits the story even though it doesn't seem to.

    "Tomorrow, When the War Began" and most of the titles of the rest of the series. "Darkness, Be My Friend" probably the most, even though it was the book I liked the least in the series. (I especially like the original cover of that one and of the last book, but we're not talking covers.) All the titles fit the tone of the series, and of each particular book. (Besides being a brilliant series overall.)

    "Blood and Chocolate" -- very sensual and attention-grabbing, and fitted the story nicely.

    I don't really tend to like fantasy or SF titles, they often seem too wordy. I've seen some good ones in bookshops (that I've been too broke to buy), but none that I can remember now.


  11. Some recent titles I love:

    Dutchess of Fifth Avenue
    Empress Orchid

    I liked the Garth Nix titles: Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday... etc.

    The Kissing Blades title caught my eye before I even looked at the name. ;)

  12. I'd have to add Slaughterhouse Five to the list, because I remember picking it up years ago to read it and have NO CLUE as to what it was going to be about! Ditto for The Catcher in the Rye.

    But then, perhaps I'm biased, seeing as how these are among some of my favorite books.

  13. Anonymous10:55 AM

    Okay, I did a search on "weird book titles" and here is what I found.

    And yes, they are "real" books.

    1. Alien Abductees Handbook
    2. Headhunting in the Solomon Islands
    3. How to Enjoy Sex While Conscious
    4. Elephants in Pink Tutus
    5. Handbook of Underwater Acoustics
    6. The Screwing of the Average Man
    7. How to Read A Book
    8. 1978 Oahu Bus Schedule
    9. Psychological Effects of Preventing Nuclear War
    10. Advice from a Failure
    11. Population Control Through Nuclear Pollution
    12. Suture Self
    13. How to Make a Moron
    14. Superfluous Hair and Its Removal

  14. None of the top ten really does it for me. I'd never buy a book titled Lemon except if some friends recommended it as being more interesting than the title. ;) I liked Hundred Years of Solutide but that has nothing to do with the title.

    Some that stick out for me:
    Threads of Malice (Tamara Siler Jones, her next, Valley of the Soul got a good one, too)
    A Tale of Old Mortality, Sir Walter Scott
    Die unsichtbare Flagge (The Invisible Flag, Peter Bamm - The semi-autobiographical story of a surgeon in WW2)
    Sunne in Splendour (Sharon Kay Penman)

    Another one I like is If Angels Burn, and I admit I'd have liked Darkness has no Need better than 'Dark Need'. ;)

  15. Jaws
    Awaken Me Darkly
    A Girl of the Limberlost
    The Face on the Milk Carton

    I know I can think of many more...

  16. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I'll never forgive that Spanish git for stealing 'The Shadow of the Wind' before I could come up with the story that went with it. I've had it written on a scrap of paper stuck to my cork board for about six years.

    I also like:

    Sparking Cyanide
    Spindle's End
    Kingdom of Shadows
    The Ruins of Ambrai
    Our Lady of the Sorrows
    The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
    American Gods
    Carpe Jugulum

    All extremely good books, too.

  17. Elephant Bangs Train by William Kotzwinkle. One of my all-time fave titles! I also love the title In The Beginning Was the Command Line by Neil Stephenson.

    Sigh. Now I have title envy.

  18. Anonymous5:12 PM

    I read Donna Andrew's Meg Langslow Mystery series. I think the last four are great and have everything to do with the books, but not quite in the way some would think. I haven't read the newest (it's not out yet), but I like the title.

    No Nest For the Wicket

    The others as follows:
    Revenge of the Wrought-Iron Flamingos

    Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon

    We'll Always Have Parrots (my fav title)

    Owl's Well That Ends Well

  19. Some of my favorite titles are:

    The Word for World is Forest - Ursula K. Le Guin

    The Power that Preserves - Stephen R. Donaldson

    Dead Days of Summer - Carolyn Hart

    The Butterfly House - Marcia Preston

    Sugarplum Dead - Carolyn Hart

    Map of Bones - James Rollins

    Mirror of Her Dreams - Stephen R. Donaldson

    Gods Old and Dark - Holly Lisle

    And a host of others.

  20. the post about weird titles reminded me of this one... *G*

    The Sex Lives of Cannibals

    does that title make anybody else wince instinctively? Or is it my dirty mind...

  21. Anonymous9:40 PM

    I think Atlas Shrugged is a brilliant title -- it conjures so much (impossible responsibilities, failures, betrayals, catastrophe) in two little words. And conversely, Cybercats in Space sounds to me like a bad Saturday morning cartoon.

    But If Angels Burn is definitely one of the more striking titles I've seen lately. Other favorites: Because It is Bitter, and Because it is My Heart (even if Oates, whose books I don't like, committed an act of shameless theft in using this title!); If On a Winter's Night a Traveler, and the very simple Unless.

  22. Anonymous11:07 PM

    Great titles (some of which I've read, some of which I haven't):

    Towing Jehovah by James Morrow
    Practical Demonkeeping by Christopher Moore
    Six Miles to Roadside Business, by an author whose name I can't remember -- this is the best 68-cent hardcover novel I've ever read
    A Dark and Hungry God Arises and This Day All Gods Die by Stephen R. Donaldson
    All My Sins Remembered by Joe Haldeman

    and the title that I've fallen in love with, and am working on a novel to fit, Everything that Never Happened

  23. To Kill A Mockingbird

    I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

    The Colour of Magic

    Children Of A Lesser God

    Quartered Safe Out Here


    But I'm hopeless at titles myself :-(

  24. Anonymous9:45 PM

    Some titles that grabbed my attention:
    Scanners Live in Vain Cordwainer Smith
    Sarah, Plain and Tall Patricia MacLachlan
    If Angels Burn S.L. Viehl
    Diplomacy of Wolves Holly Lisle
    Farenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
    The Left Hand of Darkness Ursula K. Leguin
    Secondhand Lions Ok, I know it's a movie, but great title!
    They Shoot Horses Don't They? Horace McCoy
    Up the Down Staircase Bel Kaufman
    (my absolute favorite title)

  25. Anonymous2:57 PM

    Motherf*cking Snakes on the Motherf*cking Plane.


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