What is it about a catchy book title? What makes us pick up this book, instead of that one? I don’t think it’s just the title but it’s not nothing, either.
Off the top of my head, some of my favourite Australian titles (not my favourite books, just the titles) include:
- Monkey Grip (surely the best title in the history of the world?)
- The Tyranny of Distance
- Possum Magic
- Tomorrow, When the War Began
- Power Without Glory
- Cloudstreet (Why not Cloud Street, I wonder?)
But it’s difficult to judge the title independently, once you know the book.
Different kinds of titles seem to go in and out of fashion. On the Australian fiction shelf in the last few years we’ve had:
- What Was Left
- What Came Before
- What Alice Forgot
Then there is the fashion for titles with randomly juxtaposed words. Intriguing or just silly?
- Out of the Loud Hound of Darkness: A Dictionarrative (No, of course I don’t know what a dictionarrative is. Neither does anyone else. That’s probably why there is a book about it.)
- Wild Ducks Flying Backward
- So Long and Thanks For All the Fish (Proving that once they become best sellers, these sorts of titles in fact make perfect sense.)
Fluabert’s Parrot launched a fashion for apostrophised titles (a trend lampooned in Bridget Jones’s Diary when she attends the launch of Kafka’s Motorbike):
- Foucault’s Pendulum,
- Lempriere’s Dictionary
- Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
- Nathaniel’s Nutmeg
- Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow
- Stalin’s Nose
- Voltaire’s Coconuts
- The Pope’s Rhinoceros
Non-fiction titles seem to need a title plus an explanatory strap line:
- True North: the story of Mary and Elizabeth Durack
- The Floating Brothel: The extraordinary story of the Lady Julian and its cargo of female convicts bound for Botany Bay
- Far From a Still Life: Margaret Olley
- Georgiana: a biography of Georgiana McCrae, painter, diarist, pioneer
Unless, of course, the subject matter is self-evident:
- The Joy of Sex
- How to be a Woman
In that vein, I’d quite like to call my book Elizabeth Macarthur, and simply leave it at that. But people who know more about these things have suggested that I need to do better. So I compiled the following list (and I might have had some fun with it along the way)
- Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world.
- A Woman Alone: the real story of Elizabeth Macarthur. Which implies there might be a fake story somewhere, so best hurry out to buy this one if you want the real deal…
- Elizabeth Macarthur: the real life Jane Austen heroine who married unwisely, sailed to Botany Bay and made her family’s fortune. See how I’m cunningly cashing in on the Jane Austen fans with this one? Subtle, I know.
- Merino Queen: how Elizabeth Macarthur overcame her husband’s wilder gaffes and made a fortune in the wilderness. I did toy with the idea of Sheep and Shitfights but Merino Queen is way classier. Am I right?
- Elizabeth Macarthur: More than a farmer’s wife. But not too much more.
Think you can do better? Any and all suggestions gratefully received!
And, if you’re up for a laugh, try this list of the 15 most ridiculous titles ever from the Huffington Post. They’re not wrong!