Todays Top Ten topic from The Broke and the Bookish is about unique book titles. But what constitutes ‘unique’?
After all, how many well-known books share the same title as another book? It probably happens more often than we think because many books have simple titles of a common location or object (eg The Beach, The Cave) or of descriptive words or idioms (Forever, Persons of Interest). Though it is probably difficult to eliminate all such matches, titles without matches are not really what I am after for such a list.
Rather, I think, instead of literally ‘unique’ what I’m trying to think of are titles that are ‘original’ or simple a little ‘different’. For that, I am tempted to lay down some rules. I don’t want to include book titles that are simply the name of a key character. Anna Karenina and Oliver Twist may be unique, but that’s not what I am looking for in this list. The same goes for books that are simply the name of an object, location or an event or plot description – Mansfield Park, The Pearl, Finnegan’s Wake, The Adventures of Augie March.
More difficult to exclude are the books with titles that are references to something else – a Bible verse, a poem, an idiom. These can’t be considered ‘unique’, but it means excluding the sorts of wordy, enigmatic, titles I tend to like – EM Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread is a reference to an essay by Alexander Pope, Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is a reference to a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, Hardy’s Far From the Madding Crowd is a reference to a poem by Thomas Gray, Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a reference to a children’s rhyme and Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls is a reference to a Metallica song.
That’s not to say that there aren’t interesting titles that belong to these categories of character names, common locations and objects, descriptions or references – The BFG, Erewhon, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, Go Tell It on the Mountain. But they are not for this list. Instead, here is what I’ve come up with:
1. HHhH by Laurent Binet
Not too many book titles are abbreviations. It’s an attention-grabbing one too.
2. A Clock Without Hands by Carson McCullers
An object, but one that makes you think. It immediately conjures metaphorical applications.
3. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Phillip K Dick
Not too many book titles are in the form of a question. No one usually dreams of sheep; they think of sheep when trying to sleep. So, are androids not really sleeping but trying to? Wouldn’t dreaming of ‘electric’ sheep be a give away that you may be an android?
4. The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
I could have also gone with Gravity’s Rainbow.
5. Blueprints for a Barbed-Wire Canoe by Wayne Macauley
I didn’t realise until after I came up with my list that this one is based on an idiom as well. They’re difficult to avoid.
6. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
Apparently, the title means ‘a person that has the appearance of an organism lovely with colour and juice but is in fact only a clockwork toy to be wound up by God or the Devil’ (reference here). If Russian intelligence don’t already have a code-name for Donald Trump, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is too perfect!
7. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
Like A Clock Without Hands, this is a title that conjures something within you.
8. The Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann
The ‘dolls’ are ‘barbies’ – ie – barbiturates – which were taken as anal suppositories. So, the ‘valley of the dolls’ is a reference to her, er, …
As usual, I want to include non-fiction books as well, many of which have very interesting titles.
9. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks
10. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown