Truths, Tales & Tirades – 16 February 2017


A book title should instantly grab one’s attention. If you are an aspiring author, you should take the title of that magnum opus very seriously. It should be imaginative, catchy, memorable, even visionary. Or not?

There are titles and titles. Consider Shakespeare. Was it really that ingenious to name a book Hamlet? Or Macbeth? Othello? What about Richard III or Henry V? Perhaps finding a fancy title is just, well, much ado about nothing.

There are thousands of novels, including some great works of literature, where the title is only the name of a person. Emma. Jane Eyre. Matilda. Oliver Twist. Madam Bovary. Anna Karenina. Moll Flanders. Carrie. (Careful here!) Heidi. And then Rebecca.

I have a soft spot for Daphne du Maurier’s character, Rebecca, that openly promiscuous femme fatale whom I got to know quite well in matric. (It was our prescribed book.) “Men are simpler than you imagine, my sweet child. But what goes on in the twisted, tortuous minds of women would baffle anyone.”

Time Magazine’s all-time best 100 English language novels include a few titles, which, at first glance and without knowing more about them, actually sound quite uninspiring. Catch-22. 1984. Possession. Money. Deliverance. And then there is the category “Implausibly Titled Books”.

Have you heard of the Diagram Prize, that humorous literary award given annually to a book with an unusual title? It all started in 1978. The first winning title was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. Here’s another one (2005): People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It.

Have you read Everything I Know About Women I learned From My Tractor? And while talking about the farm, here’s one for the tree-huggers: How to Shit in the Woods: An Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art.

Want to know what my favourite is? Knitting With Dog Hair: Better A Sweater From A Dog You Know and Love Than From A Sheep You’ll Never Meet. That’s what I would call the perfect title!