Saturday, January 03, 2009

What's in a Title?

Book Titles, the Author's Biggest Struggle?
by Alan Eggleston, writer, editor, and bookseller

If you're an author struggling with the title to your new bestseller-to-be, take a few lessons from the masters.

A book by British newspaper columnist and author Gary Dexter tells the story behind the titles of 50 landmark books. In Why Not Catch-21?, Dexter details the struggle to choose just the right number of catches to arrive at 22. Interesting story! First readers of Utopia by Thomas More thought it was a story of a real place, but there were clues in the title and the storytelling that discerning readers came to understand and that you can learn from. Why did Melville call his groundbreaking work "Moby Dick" instead of just "The Whale"? This and more is spelled out.

The full title of the book is Why Not Catch-21? The Stories Behind the Titles and it fully explains the work. As the preface explains, the book is based on a weekly column Dexter wrote for The Sunday Telegraph called "Title Deed." I want to do some research and see if it's still running, because it provides fascinating insight into how authors think and work, and how books are created.


  • Update: I Googled "Title Deed Sunday Telegraph" and although I received several links, all showed truncated results hidden behind "High Beam Research" which requires membership for full review. You will, however, see examples from the column on the Title Deed link above.
First published in 2007, I found it as a paperback this weekend at Schuler Books in Grand Rapids, Michigan. ISBN: 9780711229259. It's a good read and offers an interesting view of the thought process behind authors and their books.

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2 comments:

Gary Dexter said...

Hi Wordsworth - I'm the author of said book and the column is still running, but they don't tend to put it online. It's in its 4th year (weekly) so as you can imagine the books are getting obscurer and obscurer. Glad you liked it. Best, Gary.

wordsworth said...

Hi Gary! Thank you for responding to my review. I very much like the book and the backstory on all those titles. Gives a real insight into the stories, the authors, and the times in which they occurred. I had tried to look up the column and had found a couple online, but not nearly enough to satisfy my curiosity and desire to learn more. The good news is, there will be much material for another volume of your book!

With appreciation,
Alan Eggleston, aka Wordsworth