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Question of the day: good books, bad titles - Barnstorming on an Invisible Segway [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Marissa Lingen

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Question of the day: good books, bad titles [Nov. 25th, 2010|12:21 pm]
Marissa Lingen
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While you're digesting--or not digesting--mentally or physically:

What's the worst title you know of to a book you actually like? Books that are themselves horrible don't count. The examples timprov and I came up with were Children of Dune, which neither of us actually likes all that much, but heavens, it's bland; Cyteen; and Have His Carcase.

I remember Cyteen actively putting me off for years because I thought it was about a cyber teenager, and bleh. (Cyteen is the name of the planet on which the book is set. It is filled with angst and woe and goodness.)

As for Have His Carcase--seriously? Seriously, Dorothy? Have His Carcase? This is the best we could do? There Is Someone Dead Somewhere And Oh, Hell, You'll Buy The New Lord Peter Book Anyway? I just--I am not impressed, is what. timprov made reference to Five Random Scotsmen, which gave me the urge to actually write a mystery novel called Five Random Scotsmen (dammit, timprov), but The Five Red Herrings still strikes me as far, far better than Have His Carcase.

I would include Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede on this list, but it's that horrible creature, an off-putting title for a book I like that actually suits the book well once I've read it. I can totally see why Bradley Denton called it that, and I do like the book (no, really, it is worth the time of day! it is not the horrible thing so many people think!)--but it's another one that caused so many people to go, "Ew." And yet I get that one, whereas Cyteen--meh, call it something else, call it something besides Here Is What Planet We're On This Time And Also It Happens To Sound Funny.

How about you? What strikes you as bland, mediocre, or generally bad for a book you actually like?
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2010-11-25 06:54 pm (UTC)
Mirabile has much the same problem as Cyteen. So does Downbelow Station, for that mattter. Linda Nagata's Vast also succeeds at blanding itself into meaninglessness. Oh, it must be about space somehow! Whee.

Urm. No offense to swan_tower, but Warrior and Witch fall into this category too. Doppelganger was a far better title than Warrior, at least for me, and the combination of the two was evocative.

The Green Pearl and Madouc are both pretty bad in this respect, as was Araminta Station. I like the titles of the Demon Princes and Dying Earth books, but wow were some of Vance's later titles unhelpful.
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2010-11-25 11:13 pm (UTC)
(The new titles were not my preference.)
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[User Picture]From: alecaustin
2010-11-26 06:08 am (UTC)
Given how much care and effort you put into finding a title for With Fate Conspire, I suspected as much.
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[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2010-11-26 04:57 pm (UTC)
Well, the process of titling the Onyx Court books was entirely different to begin with.

(My favorite titles for the doppelganger books are actually the German ones, because of the way German can make them structurally more parallel: Doppelgänger and Hexenkrieger.)

But I am off-topic now, and since my brain is tired and sleepy and refusing to cough up examples of what Mris is talking about, I'll bow out again.
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[User Picture]From: ellarien
2010-11-25 07:15 pm (UTC)
The Kif Strike Back is another bad Cherryh title -- I saw an internet rumour once that it was the result of a flippant remark to the editor or agent being taken seriously.

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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-26 05:08 am (UTC)
Oh, good heavens, yes!!!
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[User Picture]From: juliansinger
2010-11-28 02:08 am (UTC)
I haaaaaated that title. In fact, I was going to comment with it but then I read comments instead.
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[User Picture]From: merriehaskell
2010-11-25 08:20 pm (UTC)
Jackaroo by Cynthia Voigt--I avoided that book for years because the title sounded dumb to me. Turned out to be one of my most favorite books ever.

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From: zeborahnz
2010-11-25 10:00 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I'm glad I got a copy of His Majesty's Dragon which is actually called His Majesty's Dragon. I guess they wouldn't have changed the name to Temeraire without good marketing reasons but to me the original title is far more evocative.

On the flipside: I own a copy of The Book of Night and Moon because the title is wonderful. But every time I try to read it I tear my hair out because the story isn't anything to do with what the title evokes in me. So frustrating.
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[User Picture]From: rosefox
2010-11-26 01:43 am (UTC)
I always think Od Magic is a typo and want to fix it. V. annoying. But a lovely book.
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[User Picture]From: dd_b
2010-11-26 01:59 am (UTC)
The Sayers title I actually rather like because of the joke with the legal Latin -- habeus corpus.

I think maybe books I like manage to pull the title along with them. I'm not thinking of any examples, and find myself objecting to the examples mentioned that are actually books I like.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-26 05:05 am (UTC)
This is one of the times where getting the pun and liking the pun are not the same for me.
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[User Picture]From: reveritas
2010-11-26 02:11 am (UTC)
I didn't read my favorite book, Watership Down, for awhile because I thought it was about naval war. Then I took it OFF my boyfriend's shelf and saw the bunny picture. Happy Thanksgiving!
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[User Picture]From: marydell
2010-11-26 03:07 am (UTC)
Oh goodness, I thought the exact same thing! But then everyone in my 8th grade class decided to read it at once so it became apparent it was about bunnies. Love that book.
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[User Picture]From: marydell
2010-11-26 03:09 am (UTC)
A Deepness In The Sky is one of my very favorite books, but I am not on board with the title or with the book's use of "deepness" in general.

For a while Viking was publishing Nero Wolfe omnibi, with 3 novels in a single hardback collection, and I have a few of those. The best of the bunch collects 3 stories with the same villain (Arnold Zeck) and names it "Triple Zeck." Bleck.
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[User Picture]From: marydell
2010-11-26 03:11 am (UTC)
Oh and Lasher is not a particularly grabby title, although I liked the book once upon a time.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-26 12:43 pm (UTC)
Well, and I think what it does, with the Streatfeilds, is make them sound more of a series than they are. I mean, yes, a great many of them have Mme. Fidolia and/or the Fossil sisters. But not all, and not as main characters, and I'd rather have kids figure, oh, I can pick up a book called Apple Bough no problem, than wonder if they've got the right order on "The Shoes Series," which is not really a thing like that.
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[User Picture]From: rushthatspeaks
2010-11-26 09:55 pm (UTC)
I know it's a manga, but I have had to spend a lot of time over the years explaining to people that really they ought to read this series called Fruits Basket, because it is impossible to explain either the title or the premise in a way that makes it sound remotely good. Ditto Princess Tutu, which is one of my favorite things on TV ever.

Bad anime and manga titles are an entire terrible genre to themselves. I have not yet seen Gundam Mobile Suit: Unicorn, but it cannot possibly deserve that, and I know for a fact that the show is about giant robots.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-26 10:23 pm (UTC)
I have recently watched the anime of Fruits Basket and intend to read the manga despite my general badness at reading comics/manga. So yah: I feel your pain. "And the title comes from...um, there's this bit when she's a kid playing a game...and she's the rice ball...but actually it's about a family that turns into members of the zodiac when embraced by...wait, but it's actually fun!"
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[User Picture]From: Bradley Denton
2010-11-26 11:54 pm (UTC)

Question of the day: good books, bad titles

Hi Marissa!

It's twenty years too late for me to change the title of BUDDY HOLLY IS ALIVE AND WELL ON GANYMEDE now. If I could, though . . . what would it be, I wonder?

The Italian edition was entitled UNA VOCE DA GANIMEDE, which I believe translates as A VOICE FROM GANYMEDE. Maybe that's better.

I'd love to know what you and others think. And I appreciate the food for thought.

-- Brad Denton
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-27 12:37 pm (UTC)

Re: Question of the day: good books, bad titles

So here's the problem:

I wasn't just being polite when I said I knew, after reading Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede, why you'd chosen that title. I really did get it. And it left me in a pickle. Because while A Voice From Ganymede (and a better paperback cover!) would probably have had me picking up the paperback when I was a teenager in the library, you know and I know that Buddy Holly, specifically, himself, is a great deal more important to the book than Ganymede, specifically. I mean, sure, Ganymede, but you could have picked Europa; you couldn't have picked the Big Bopper.

Very few people are big enough Buddy Holly fans to allow Just Like This Coke to be the title of anything that sells worth beans, which is a darn shame if you ask me, because it's such a clear reference, and the original line makes me so happy, and I can imagine exactly what book it would be the right title for, but I digress. As I so often do. I probably would listen to the Crickets until my ears bled, though, looking for a referential way in that way, if someone put me in charge of retitling Buddy Holly Is Alive and Well on Ganymede.

I don't know, my marketing scheme would be (*cough* is) to make people read One Day Closer to Death and then say, "Now look. Same guy; do you really believe he went off and wrote some cheesy thing in which celebrities are only there for smarmy celebrity status? You read 'The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians.' Trust the man. Off you go, go read it, whatever it's called." This is why I have no career in marketing: starting with a short story collection to sell people on a novel is so culturally backwards and such a non-starter at the moment as to be laughable--at least when you're not doing it on a person-by-person basis.

Well, no. That's not why I don't have a career in marketing. I don't have a career in marketing because I don't have to have. But that's why I wouldn't have a successful one if I did have to.
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[User Picture]From: columbina
2010-11-28 04:04 am (UTC)

Re: Question of the day: good books, bad titles

What do you do when you attempt that approach and the someone hasn't read "The Calvin Coolidge Home For Dead Comedians" (apart from hand it to them immediately and sit them in a corner until they read it, I suppose)?

No, no, *I* have read it. I have read it many, many times. The periodical it appeared in is the only issue of that periodical I have kept, in fact. But I find that most of my friends have not, and I should like a polite Minnesotan method of dealing with this common contingency.
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-11-28 04:24 am (UTC)

Re: Question of the day: good books, bad titles

The passive-aggressive way to handle this is to buy people a copy of One Day Closer to Death for their birthdays.

You may then smile blandly as they look at the title and look at your face. What? What is with the looking at the title and the face? It is your birthday present, why the looking? Are you not pleased? Happy birthday!
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[User Picture]From: seagrit
2010-11-29 02:28 pm (UTC)
I just read "A Posse of Princesses" this weekend (kindle version was cheap, had good reviews), and like other reviewers on Amazon, I liked the story (predictable, yet fun), but think the title is pretty bad.
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[User Picture]From: dichroic
2010-12-02 12:23 pm (UTC)
My vote for worst title (and it took me this long to post specifically because these are so forgettable - I remembered being annoyed by them but not what they were) are the American versions of the first two books of Linda Buckley-Archer's Gideon trilogy. In the US they're The Time Travelers, The Time Thief, eminently bland; in the UK they're Gideon the Cutpurse and The Tar Man, which I like a lot better. (The third book is Time Quake both places.)

I'm not fond of the US title of rj_anderson's first book, either, and for similar reasons (sorry! but listing them here is because I do like the *books*). I like the UK title Knife way better than Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. (The second book's not so bad: Rebel was changed to Wayfarer and this time they didn't put the series title (Faery Rebels) in such big type that it obscured the real title.
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[User Picture]From: bad_latin
2010-12-02 11:53 pm (UTC)
I avoided The Riddle-Master of Hed for years because the title put me off so much. It sounded like it was meant to be wacky and clownish.

I also found it difficult to work up enthusiasm over Bujold's (then upcoming) Sharing Knife series because my partner and I could not say it in anything other than an over-earnest hippy-dippy school counselor sort of way. "The Shaaaaaaaaring Knife."
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[User Picture]From: mrissa
2010-12-03 04:17 am (UTC)
Sequels, of course, are The Over-Sharing Knife and The Ack! Too Much Information Knife.
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