Saturday, June 02, 2007

What Makes You Pull a Book Off the Shelf?

When you haven’t heard of it – when only the spine is showing – what makes you pull a book off the shelf? I can see my grade school classroom bookshelves, and year after year certain titles that I hated and never picked: Little House in the Big Woods was one. It sounded babyish, boring, too serious (I know, I was wrong: years later I heard my mother reading it to my younger siblings and then read, and loved, the whole series).

Now I still see some patterns in titles I like – they’re intriguing and make me wonder. They make me want to read the book and then they deliver what they promise: The Hobbit, Homecoming, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Return of the Twelves.

Lots of current YA titles seem to be trying WAY too hard to get attention. They sound fake. Maybe I’d Tell You I Love You But Then I’d Have to Kill You is a great book; but I’ll never read it. I like titles (and books) that seem natural. Astronauts Handbookthe title combined with Meghan’s art: intriguing and natural.When my mother heard the title of my book that's out now, she said "Hmmmmm...." in a tone her daughters know all too well -- some of my artist sisters never show her ANYTHING for that reason!

Good titles also seem inevitable, even though I know lots aren’t: Gone With the Wind was first called Tomorrow Is Another Day; The Great Gatsby something like The High-Bouncing Lover. Come to think of it I like that better! What’s a NEW title that seems inevitable? Stargirl? Firegirl? Or am I just prejudiced because I love their covers?

This one is harder to define, but good titles also have a kind of ring to them….though not a FORCED ring (like all those double alliteration titles – I bet most slush piles are full of titles like Debbie the Dust Bunny). Estelle and Lucy, Olvina Flies, The Pig of the Pig, ….these all just SOUND (I’m talking about the sounds of the words) good -- good but not forced, and they fit. If, say, I saw Olvina Flies and pulled it off the shelf, I’d be surprised that Olvina was a chicken; but the name fits her, too. Perfect.

But maybe I’m just prejudiced – after all I’d heard of that one. What kinds of titles (or is it not the title, but something like the color?) do you actually pull off the shelf?
PS I know I already posted today, but that was more of a PSA--and I missed a lot of Saturdays while I was finishing my book! I had so much fun taking pictures (if you click this one you can read all the titles)that next week I'll post just pictures: what's on the shelves at Bank Square Books in Mystic, CT.... would it be interesting to pick a letter and all take pictures of that shelf at our local bookstore?


Disco Mermaids said...

Astronauts Handbook is definitely a title I'd pick up. And while I agree that certain titles try really hard, such as I'd Tell You I Love You..., they still make me pick them up to see what they're about.

- Jay

P.S. While Thirteen Reasons Why was my editor's idea...and I initially hated it...I now love my title.

Lisa Jenn said...

What turns me *off* about book titles right now is the recent trend for books to be called "The [Exciting Adjective] [Noun] of [Main Character's Name]." A few examples:

- The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
- The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
- The Remarkable Friendship of Mr. Cat and Mr. Rat
- The Amazing Flight of Darius Frobisher
- The Extraordinary Adventures of Ordinary Basil

I guess it goes with the "trying too hard" idea; I'm instantly skeptical that these books are as miraculous, amazing, remarkable, and extraordinary as they claim to be.