Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tricksy Titles 

Titles are supposed to grab a reader's attention, inform her of the book's genre, and sum up the contents of 400 pages--all at the same time.  That's a lot of responsibility for 2-5 words to bear.  Little wonder then, that some titles manage to give certain readers a completely wrong impression of what the book's actually about. 

Here are classic titles that mixed me up.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

What I thought it was about:  A solemn treatise on racism in the post-Civil war south.  Tragic, powerful, moralizing, with nothing much happening for 200 pages.

What it turned out to be: An addictive romance with a satirical bite set in Regency England.  Mr. Darcy has too much pride, Elizabeth Bennett has too much prejudice, and as they fall for each other, they learn their faults and strive to overcome them.

Watership Down by Richard Adams

What I thought it was about:  A sinking ship, obviously.  Either the whole story is leading to the ship sinking (like the Titanic) or the ship sinks in the beginning, leading the characters to face a survival situation.

What it turned out to be: An epic adventure revolving around... say it with me now... rabbits.  Yes, rabbits.  After a prophetic bunny named Fiver has a vision of their warren's destruction, his brother Hazel leads a ragtag group to find a new home.  The place they eventually settle is called Watership Down--hence the title.

The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

What I thought it was about: Either a nonfiction book about the history of 3.14 or a literary tale about a mathematician obsessed with 3.14.  Maybe said mathematician finds love and learns life lessons--but clearly no one is in serious danger.

What it turned out to be: A boy named Pi and a tiger survive on a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean.  This one should have been called Watership Down.  At least it had a sinking ship in it.

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

What I thought it was about: ? ? ?  I'm used to classic books using metaphors for their titles (To Kill a Mockingbird, A Clockwork Orange) but in this case I literally couldn't tell what the metaphor was supposed to be.  My brain, in its infinite kookiness, ended up with a cross  between a Venus Fly Trap and my least favorite loaf of bread.

What it turned out to be: High-schooler Holden Caulfield whines about phonies, wanders around, and spends his entire savings while accomplishing nothing.  At one point toward the end of the book, he has a vivid image of a group of children playing in a rye field near the edge of the cliff.  He wants to catch them before they fall off.  Yeah, I can't imagine why I didn't get this title.  It's so obvious.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach

What I thought it was about: Literary fiction just loves to couch its title in metaphor. That's how they lure you into reading it--you want to know what they're talking about.  (I'm talking to you, Catcher in the Rye!)   I didn't know what the seagull referred to, but one thing was sure there was 0% chance that the main character was a gull.

What it turned out to be: Apparently, I was wrong.

What about you?  Any titles that tricked you?


  1. This post cracked me up. Well done.

    Wish I could think of an appropriately tricksy title. On a minor note, I initially thought Little Women was about Female Munchkins. I love Alcott's novel, but I think the alternate story could have been an even bigger hit.