Sometimes, a title just catches my eye.
I’d been sent a list of books for reviewing. I don’t always take up the challenge. With so much already on my ‘to-read’ shelf I’m picky about what I spend my spare time on, especially since we’ve adopted a new puppy. He’s gorgeous, and rewarding and full of energy that needs directing. I’d forgotten how much attention they need.
So I skimmed down the page in my least responsive frame of mind, and found my eye caught by, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway. I hesitated, glanced at the thumbnail graphic of the cover. ‘Nice,’ I thought. ‘Simple, intriguing.’ I liked the strong colours and wondered if the suspension bridge was in San-Francisco, or Bristol…What do you mean, unlikely?
The thing is, I had no idea where ‘the Bohemian Highway’ was. I liked the sound of it, though, and to be honest, I was hoping it was a metaphor.
Sometimes, do you find this, that sometimes, a title calls to you? Like, Hills Like White Elephants, or Flesh and the Mirror, or Pumping up Napoleon. I knew, as soon as I read those titles that I had to know more.
That doesn’t happen so often with novels, as with stories, and poems for me. Except that now I look at my shelf, I can see all sorts of witty and intriguing titles, Love in The Time of Cholera, Like Water for Chocolate, The Master and Margarita…so maybe I’m showing some bias here, because what I’ve been heading towards from the start of this is the suggestion that poets and short story writers have to work harder with their titles.
Of course, for every rule there are exceptions. I could research lists that would prove and disprove my theory that short story and poem titles are intrinsically intriguing, but why should you agree with my choices? Besides, there are plenty of short story and poetry titles that I think mundane, even though the stories proved good, or more than good.
The thing I do want to say, as if you didn’t already know this, is that making a good title can be as tricky as writing the body of the text, long or short, lyrical or not. It can also be as rewarding. The right title can do so much more than describe the contents. For one thing, do we think enough about the tone we’re setting with our titles?
So, take this story, The Shoe Box. Hmm, so far, so pedestrian (sorry, couldn’t resist that), it could be, Nut Brown Brogues, or how about, Size Twelves, or Worn.
If, when I saw Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, I had instantly pictured a stretch of tarmac, I would probably have skimmed on past, and then put the list in the recycle bin. My interest was snagged with the word Bohemian, and the associations that carried for me.
So, I ask myself as I look at Sara Gran’s novel, was that what she intended, when she, and perhaps the publisher settled on this title? We could ask her, I suppose. These days authors are mostly keen to interact with their readers. But don’t we learn more by thinking it through ourselves?