The tyranny of (book) titles

THERE it was, beckoning me from the book shop shelf – An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England.
I had to have it.
Don’t get the wrong idea – I’m no pyromaniac, it’s just that I can’t resist a quirky book title.
This one – an off-the wall “tragi-comic” novel – looks like it may be a winner.
And the Hippos Were Boiled in their Tanks was another one that made the journey home from the book store with me last week, though I have to admit it’s a title I’d normally have avoided, quirky as it is – I don’t usually do gross. This choice was more about literary heroes. It’s the only (as far as I know) published collaboration between two of mine – William S Burroughs and Jack Kerouac, so I’ll try to ignore the graphic images it conjures up and concentrate on the content instead. Fortunately, it’s got nothing to do with hippos being boiled, in case you’re wondering.
My bookshelves are bulging with titles that have led me on unashamedly. “Take me home, take me home,” they shout, and who am I to argue?
Bastard out of Carolina, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living (a novel, believe it or not), I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Redneck Way of Knowledge, I had to have them all – and they’ve rarely let me down.
I almost missed Noodling for Flatheads. It’s been on the beloved’s bookshelves for a year or two. He and I have a totally different take on books but every now and then this alluring title would catch my eye. I’d pick it up, see the picture of a fisherman on the cover, marvel at how such a mundane book could have such a great title, then put it back.
I mentioned it to him the other day. “Sounds ridiculous,” he huffed. “I’ve no idea how it got there.”
A closer look revealed a delightful concoction of “moonshine, catfish and other Southern comforts”.
It’s safely back with mama now, where it belongs.
Of course, there’s always the danger that this predilection for the offbeat will cheat me out of some wonderful content. If the title doesn’t appeal, I won’t even pick a book up.
Lovers’ Hollow was one of those.
“You have to read this,” announced my Ethekwini girlfriend, Karen, waving it – as much as it’s possible to wave a huge doorstop of a paperback – under my nose.
“Can’t do it,” I told her. “Sounds like a romance – look at that soppy title.”
She was insistent. Reluctantly, I took it. We’d just met up again for the first time in over a decade so I didn’t want to squabble over something so silly.
I almost became a recluse because of that book – temporarily, at least.
It’s one of the most captivating novels I’ve read. Set in Ireland and told in mellifluous, evocative language by Irish novelist Orna Ross, it covers everything from women’s rights and civil war politics to dark family secrets.
As I read, echoes of Ireland’s struggle songs sang around my brain while the beat of a distant bodhran drummed the words home.
Sometimes it pays to leave your discomfort zone. – Stevie Godson
This column was first published in the Daily Dispatch

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This entry was posted by stevieg on Sunday, August 15th, 2010 at 9:17 am and is filed under A Passion for Words, General . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stevie Godson, Word Nerds. Word Nerds said: My take on the tyranny of book titles […]

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