Titles for Life

I once had a conversation with a prolific  author who told me that when he had a title for his next book, the rest of the book flowed from there. It is hard to find a suitable header for a blog post. I can imagine that authors of books, if they have any say at all in the matter, must have a significant challenge to title their books the right way.  You only get one shot at capturing the essence of what you’ve written and capturing the attention of the readers, and when you only have a few words to do it, it is hard.

When I was young, I had books on the shelves, and for whatever reason, the titles always interested me. Not always the books themselves, but the titles. For example, one book on my shelf was, To Survive We Must Be Clever. I liked the sound of that title and have remembered it numerous times in my life. The book is juvenile fiction by Gertrude Finney about the Aleuts of Alaska. I wasn’t much into survival tales as a young girl, but I liked the title and what it conveyed. In life we often have to be clever to survive. Another was Up a Road Slowly by Irene Hunt. I’ve thought of how that is a good way to describe life when we are unable to run the race and are forced to go up the road, slowly. A while back, I even titled a blog post, “Up a Hill Slowly”, when I remembered that book.  One of my all time favorites as a girl was Stand in the Wind and Eat Peanut Brittle.  That’s the story of how a young girl learns to face her fears. I first read that book in sixth grade, but I have never forgotten that title. When I’ve faced hard things, I have remembered that book and thought, “It’s time to stand in the wind with some peanut brittle.”

Through the years, the titles on adult novels have made me think more than once. There are plenty of inspired titles in the great literature of the Western canon, but some of my favorites are on lighter reading and old novels and mysteries I have collected. I remember some 20 years ago, I was in a very discouraging situation. Having prayed and Titleswatched for a positive change, I was convinced that a long held hope was dashed. Lying across my bed, I glanced up at my bookshelf laden with my dog eared old novels. One title jumped out at me immediately. This isn’t the End was the title. Funny thing was, it wasn’t the end! My dearest hope and prayer became a reality. I still see that book and have to smile.

I like some book titles just for the way the words sound or for a feeling they evoke. Martha Grimes’ mystery novels all have titles with the names of English pubs. Help the Poor Struggler is one of them. Staggering upstairs with a laundry basket I sometimes think, “Yes! Help the poor struggler!” Rumer Godden has some titles that are musical and lovely. An Episode of Sparrows or Black Narcissus, for example. Then there is Elizabeth Goudge and her books, The Scent of Water or  Towers in the Mist or A City of Bells and its exquisite sequel, Sister of the Angels.  Taylor Caldwell’s book, The Listener is another that evokes thought with just two words.  That’s all it takes really. Two or three words to stir curiosity about the contents or convey a certain mental picture.

Some book titles on my shelf are based on old sayings like, True by the Sun, a novel from the early part of the last century. There was an old saying back then that went, “What’s true by the lamp isn’t always true by the sun.” It wasn’t saying that truth changes, it was a warning that what looks good in the poor light of a lamp, isn’t always good in the bright light of the sun.  Another book title I like is The Patch of Blue, by Grace Livingston Hill. Inside the cover she placed this quote.  “It’s a gray day.” The old Scottsman replied, “Yes, but dinna ye see the patch o’ blue?” I remember that when I look out on a bleak day or find things to complain about.

It can be gray in our lives but what a difference it makes when somebody points out the window and says. “Look! There’s a patch of blue!”


5 thoughts on “Titles for Life

  1. Sam says:

    I too love evocative titles. “A Timbered Choir”, “The Fragrance of God”… some just have an atmosphere to them. I’ve always had a fascination, at least in my imagination, with the wild and waste places. I like book titles that capture the sense of longing for the dangerous and uncharted vastness. “In the Heart of the Sea.” “Over the Edge of the World” “The Winds of Silkak.” “The Eternal Sea”. They stir something in the heart.

  2. Judi says:

    Now you’ve got me thinking….Yes, “Up a Road Slowly” and “Across Five Aprils”. “Gone with the Wind”. “The Wind in the Willows”, “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch”, “The Secret Garden”, and “The Door in the Wall”. “A Light in the Window”, “Under the Lilacs”, and “Thimble Summer”. “Milly-Molly-Mandy”. 🙂 –Now I have to make a list of your books that I haven’t read.

  3. Ann B says:

    Antoine de Saint- Exupéry’s “Wind, Sand and Stars.” It is a lovely book even in English.

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