This blog is for everyone who uses words.

The ordinary-sized words are for everyone, but the big ones are especially for children.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Entitled to success: a rant.

Titles are important.

I was put off reading the hilarious Diary of a Nobody for years because I thought it was going to be a dreary trudge through existential angst. The same thing happened with The Catcher In The Rye (I'm still slightly confused: is a catcher more or less what in cricket I'd call a wicket-keeper? Ah well, at least I know now that in this case Rye isn't the town on the South Coast of England).

I wasn't attracted by To Kill A Mockingbird, either, partly because it leaves one grammatically rather in the air.

Of course all three of these books have done very well indeed. But I still don't think the titles helped.

In the Book That Deserved To Do Better section of The Guardian newspaper there's a piece from a publisher that says: I was stung and puzzled that more people did not read Otto Dov Kulka's "Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death".

And I'm afraid I had to laugh.

Look, the purpose of a title is a) to let people know what the book's about, and b) to sound inviting. Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death does neither (apparently the book is a very fine meditation on the Holocaust).

But you can't tell what it is from that title, and landscapes and metropolis both have a strong whiff of pretension to an English speaker.

A View of the City of Death.

That's a book to send shivers of dread and pity down the spine.

You know, I think I'd have to read that.

Word Not To Use Today, Especially In A Title: metropolis. This word comes from the Greek words mētēr, mother and polis, city.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I think more than one "of" usually makes for a clumsy title.

    I rather think that somewhat oxymoronic titles are good as they implant themselves firmly in the memory - 'The Shadow of the Wind', for example, or 'Five Quarters of the Orange'.

    1. You could well be right, Eddie. Practically every title I've ever come up with has been immediately changed by my publishers, so what do I know?
      Havng said that, the title of my next book (not out until August) has come through so far unscathed as THE NITS OF DOOM. But I'll certainly bear oxymorons in mind for the future.