What makes a good book title?

Posted March 2, 2015 by Lory in discussions / 28 Comments

Last month’s discussion topic was “Why do so many books have the same title?” Not exactly the same title, of course, but there are some titling trends that have gotten out of hand. I was glad to find that I’m not the only one who is bothered by this —  now, if only publishers would pay attention…

Books on the Table commented with a link to this post about titles, which got me thinking about good titles. Ideally, they should be unique, memorable, and capture something of the essence of the book in question, with extra points for cleverness and humor. When I went looking, I found a lot of run-of-the-mill sameness, but also many original and creative titles to celebrate. Here are some of my favorites; please do add yours in the comments.

Quotes/Sayings 
What’s Bred in the Bone – Robertson Davies
To Say Nothing of the Dog – Connie Willis
Something Wicked This Way Comes – Ray Bradbury
A Ring of Endless Light – Madeleine L’Engle
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon
East of Eden – John Steinbeck
Nine Coaches Waiting – Mary Stewart

Puns/Wordplay
Period Piece – Gwen Raverat
Time and Again – Jack Finney
Dogsbody – Diana Wynne Jones
The War Between the Tates – Alison Lurie
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
The Importance of Being Earnest – Oscar Wilde
The Darkangel – Meredith Ann Pierce

Long
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – E.L. Konigsburg
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down – Anne Fadiman
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat – Oliver Sacks
We Have Always Lived in the Castle – Shirley Jackson

Short
Possession – A.S. Byatt
Fingersmith  – Sarah Waters
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Beloved – Toni Morrison
Farthing – Jo Walton
Wicked – Gregory Maguire
She – H. Rider Haggard

Juxtapositions
The Mouse and the Motorcycle – Beverly Cleary
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis
Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth – E.L. Konigsburg
My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
My Life and Hard Times – James Thurber
The Professor and the Madman – Simon Winchester
Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Five Children and It – E. Nesbit
Fire and Hemlock – Diana Wynne Jones

Mysterious and Evocative
The Dark Is Rising –  Susan Cooper
Midnight Is a Place – Joan Aiken
The Towers of Trebizond – Rose Macaulay
A Study in Scarlet – Arthur Conan Doyle
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle
Where the Wild Things Are– Maurice Sendak
The Phantom Tollbooth – Norton Juster
The King Must Die – Mary Renault

What book titles do you love, and why?

Posted for the 2015 Book Blog Discussion Challenge, hosted by Feed Your Fiction Addiction and It Starts at Midnight.  

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28 responses to “What makes a good book title?

  1. I really like your list and fear that I could not come up a lot better titles without a lot of thought.

    I would just add to the list of simplicity – The Stranger by Albert Camus.

    Out of your choices I think that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is my favorite.

  2. Kay

    One of my favorite long titles: The Hundred-year-old Man Who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared

    It is a really good book too! 😀

    • That is a good one! There could be a whole category for titles derived from Shakespeare (Something Wicked This Way Comes is another one).

  3. What a wonderful list! Dick Francis was great at the succinct titles: Risk, Bolt, Nerve, Straight. One is even a single-word wordplay: Proof refers to both proof of a crime and the alcohol content of (in this case) wine.

    Another good pun title is Little Knell (Catherine Aird.)

    I also like intriguing titles: The God of the Hive (Laurie R. King), Some Die Eloquent (Catherine Aird), The Cat Who Walks Through Walls (Heinlein – didn't care much for the book, but it's a great title.)

    • Ooh, my list is getting longer! I'd forgotten about Dick Francis — my dad is a big fan, so I was used to seeing those one-word titles on the shelf.

  4. I liked how you sorted the titles by 'type' – it's interesting to see the similarities and differences! I don't think I pay enough attention to titles to choose favourites… I'd just end up choosing my favourite books, probably 😛 I do notice titles when adding books to the TBR pile, though. But only for long enough to think "That sounds neat, I'll add it" ^^;

  5. I love I Capture The Castle, there's ambiguity in it but once you read the book you see how well it fits. It also infers there'll be some history and/or mystery to it. Pride And Prejudice gives you a firm idea of what it'll be about. Other favourites are The Night Circus for the mysteriousness of it (though the cover helps) and I like The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite because it promises something exciting as well as an interesting character.

    • I confess it took me a couple of readings before I understood that I Capture the Castle was a pun. I can be quite slow about things like that.

  6. I like short and snappy titles that are easy to remember. What I don't like are long series titles where it is hard to remember which book order just based on the title. Great post!

  7. I love long, unique titles, like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Universe, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. I also love titles that rhyme, like Rebel Belle. I also adore books in a series that have a pattern for the titles, like Divergent trilogy (Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant) and the Shatter Me series (Shatter Me, Unravel Me, and Ignite Me.)
    Great discussion!
    Tessa @ Crazy for YA

  8. I don't know that I notice book titles much, but there was this trend that was super-annoying: The Time Traveler's Wife, The Memory Keeper's Daughter, and so on, I thought they were just so sexist.

  9. I Capture the Castle is a particularly good title, in my opinion. I like titles that are fun to say but don't trip me up. I'm fond of place name titles (Middlemarch, Mansfield Park, spring to mind).

    I've always thought Gone With the Wind was an exceptionally good title, as was To Kill a Mockingbird and The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald and Heminway both came up with good titles–This Side of Paradise, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell To Arms, Tender is the Night.

    I think Outlander is good and fitting for the novel and the series. Likewise Harry Potter and the…

    I'm less than thrilled with people's names for books–Emma, Belinda, Katherine…although duMaurier's Rebecca is better in that it refers to the mystery of Rebecca and not the nameless heroine.

    Dorothy Sayers' mysteries also have great titles: Strong Poison, The Nine Tailors, Gaudy Night, etc.

    Love this topic!

    • Wonderful suggestions. I totally forgot about Dorothy Sayers, she had excellent taste in titles. Wasn't Gone with the Wind originally supposed to be titled "Tomorrow Is Another Day"? I'm glad that one didn't stick!

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