16 December 2017
A Punny Thing Happened on the Way to the Title
by John Floyd
by John M. Floyd
How important are titles of novels/stories, etc.? According to my publisher and most editors, VERY. As a result, I try hard to come up with story titles that are interesting or appropriate or--hopefully--a little mysterious. I especially like a play on words or a double meaning.
We've talked at this blog about titles and their importance before, and the fact that some are truly unique and memorable: East of Eden, Atlas Shrugged, To Kill a Mockingbird, Watership Down, No Country for Old Men, Gone With the Wind, A Walk Among the Tombstones, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Red Badge of Courage, From Here to Eternity, Jaws, The Guns of Navarone, Cool Hand Luke, The High and the Mighty, Peyton Place, Presumed Innocent, The Grapes of Wrath, The Eagle Has Landed, The Sound and the Fury, Fahrenheit 451, The Color Purple, The Silence of the Lambs, Of Mice and Men, The Maltese Falcon, The Hunt for Red October, Cannery Row, Dances With Wolves, The Caine Mutiny, and so on and so on.
But today I'd like to talk about some of the wittiest (not the best, just the wittiest and cleverest) book titles I can remember. Confession time: I wound up buying many of these books, mainly because of their names. What can I say?--I couldn't resist.
NOTE: I've started out with some of my all-time favorites and ended with the merely amusing. (And yes, I know, I'm easily amused.) I like 'em all.
1. Let's Hear It for the Deaf Man -- Ed McBain
2. The Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker -- Ron White
3. Shoot Low, Boys--They're Riding Shetland Ponies -- Lewis Grizzard
4. Here's Looking at Euclid -- Alex Bellos
5. Florence of Arabia -- Christopher Buckley
6. How to Win Friends and Influenza -- Edward Kurtz
7. Midnight in the Garden of Evel Knievel -- Giles Smith
8. A Hearse of a Different Color -- Tim Cockey
9. The Canceled Czech -- Lawrence Block
10. The Scoreless Thai -- Lawrence Block
11. Bleak Expectations -- Mark Evans
12. Lapsing Into a Comma -- Bob Walsh
13. How to Raise Your IQ by Eating Gifted Children -- Lewis B. Frumkeys
14. I Still Miss My Man but My Aim Is Getting Better -- Sarah Shankman
15. I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression -- Erma Bombeck
16. Are You There, Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea -- Chelsea Handler
17. Tequila Mockingbird -- Tim Federle
18. Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger -- Beth Harbison
19. Don't Pee on My Leg and Tell Me It's Raining -- Judy Sheindlin
20. No Way to Treat a First Lady -- Christopher Buckley
21. From Here to Maternity -- Sinead Moriarty
22. The War Between the Tates -- Alison Lurie
23. Up From Down Under -- Jeff Apter
24. Grammar Snobs Are Great Big Meanies -- June Casagrande
25. If at Birth You Don't Succeed -- Zach Anner
26. The Elephants of Style -- Bob Walsh
27. Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear -- Ed McBain
28. A Quiche Before Dying -- Jill Churchill
29. Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead -- screenplay by Neil Landau and Tara Ison
30. Surviving Your Stupid, Stupid Decision to Go to Grad School -- Adam Ruben
I'm not sure how these writers came up with these delightful titles, but I'm fairly sure that when they did, they were delighted also. A word of caution, though. This kind of thing is like similes and metaphors; when they work they're pure gold, and when they don't they can be exploding cigars. Just think of all those cozy cat mysteries or cooking mysteries that are usually pretty darn good once you get into them . . . but I suspect some of their pun-based titles keep readers from getting into them.
What are some clever titles that you've seen (of books, stories, movies, TV shows, etc.)? And have you come up with any yourself? If you're like me, you might dream up one you think is brilliant, and then your editor/publisher decides to change it. (Sigh.) I did a SleuthSayers post on that very subject, almost a year ago.
Okay, back to my favorites. I've saved the best for last. At a library sale I once saw a book whose title made me stop and laugh out loud. It was Apocalypse Pretty Soon, by Alex Heard. How could I not buy that book? (Besides, it was only a dollar.)
I just wish I'd thought of it first.