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The Formulaic Titles of Fiction


jpod-douglas-couplandThe Guardian blog made me smile today. Darragh McManus put up an entry about how formulaic fiction titles seem to be, and I couldn’t agree more. For a while I was being driven crazy by how any book about a female character seemed to be titled only in relation to her role to someone else. You know, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Astronaut’s Wife, The Pilot’s Wife, The Flautist’s Niece, The Proctologist’s Mistress, etc. etc., but McManus has a lot of the others bang to rights, too. And he makes this equally depressing and astute (and, I suspect, spot on) observation about the process:

“I suppose the old publishing game has become very stratified, and publishers are hell-bent on making sure their new product reaches an exactly targeted market. Therefore, they give each book the perfect title for that demographic. (Yes, I know it’s a sin to use words like “market”, “product” and “demographic” when discussing books, but such is the crass, grubby world we live in.) “

It’s like reading for dummies now, where perusing the shelves is so dumbed down that picking up any book is much like seeing the “Customers who liked this also liked _____ ” recommendations, because the images, colors, cover design, font, and yes, titles, are all so entirely similar to their contemporaries. It may make it easy to identify what books may be suited to us, but it’s not as fun as the moment of total mystery before reading the back of a book.

Anyway. Cynical? Perhaps. But the list of suggestions McManus put together struck a chord with me:

Chick Lit: Is He as Much of a Bastard as He Seems?
Sci-fi: //_MultiVerse UnderTime Chronicles Vol. 1_//
Crime: Joey Jones’ Downbeat Goddamn Downtown Blues
Serial killer thriller type yoke: Blood on the Edge
Action-espionage: The Armageddon Code
“Serious” historical novel, i.e. something set in an immigrant community during the 1970s: Claggy Alley
Popular historical novel, i.e. something jolly and unpretentious written by Bernard Cornwell: Pirate Lords of Old Bristol
Fantasy: Mandala: Empress of the Golden Plains
Whimsical comic novel: The Spectabulicious Adventures of Lord Pettlesnook and his Patchwork Dirigible
Edgy fiction for hip twentysomethings: Fuckipedia
Booker winner: The Persimmon Gatherers
Bitterly disappointed Booker runner-up: Notes from the Spice-monger’s Daughter

I would like to add the genre of “redemptive female fiction, in which a woman overcomes heinous, unspeakable abuse to emerge triumphant and spirutally whole” with the suggested title: “Unravelling On Our Knees”, and the genre of “unlikely monster mashup whose novelty wore off almost immediately” with the title “Werewolf Wuthering Heights”.

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Beth Carswell

About Beth Carswell

I've been reading, selling, researching, loving and writing about books with AbeBooks since 2000.

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