How to Judge A Book By Its Title
Even though I’m a visual person (meaning I like pretty pictures and read comic books), I’ve never looked closely at book covers. Unless the cover illustration is of a hot chick with cleavage, my eyes seem to naturally search for the title and author. To me, a book cover is not a factor when I choose a book. The cover is almost always designed by an illustrator who is not the author. In fact, I’d bet there is no relationship between the quality of a book cover and the quality of the writing inside the book.
But the title is different. The author almost always comes up with his (or her) own title. If the title is stupid or pretentious, chances are that the book will be stupid or pretentious. If the book title is clever or intriguing, maybe the book itself will be clever or intriguing. It doesn’t always work out that way. But I’d rather judge a book by its title than by its cover.
This year I’m making an effort to read more books as they come out so that I can form my own opinions before reviewers can spoil the books for me. I find that since I can’t see the book covers very well on my phone (my new phone is great, but covers are small), the biggest determining outside factor for me is the title.
All of the books below have come out in the last few weeks, and almost every title follows one of six commonly used title patterns:
1. NOUN-PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd
The Secret of Magic by Deborah Johnson
The Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely
Radiance of Tomorrow by Ishmael Beah
Saints of the Shadow Bible by Ian Rankin
The Purity of Vengeance by Jussi Adler-Olsen
The Secret History of Las Vegas by Chris Abani
2. PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE ONLY (maybe with lots of adjectives)
On Such a Full Sea by Chang Rae Lee
Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan
In the Blood by Lisa Unger
3. THE or A plus NOUN (with maybe an adjective in the middle)
The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
The Kept by James Scott
The Bird Skinner by Alice Greenway
A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan Philipp Sendker
The Ascendant by Drew Chapman
The Execution by Dick Wolf
Bad Wolf by Nele Neuhaus- The “the/a” is implied.
4. PROPER NOUN
Bella Cora by Phillip Margulies
Worthy Brown’s Daughter by Phillip Margolin
Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker- Yes, Mercy Snow is a character’s name. I checked.
Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty
Foreign Gods, Inc. by Okey Ndibe
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
5. ONE WORD
Perfect by Rachel Joyce
Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates- This title also fits the PROPER NOUN category
Red-1, 2, 3 by John Katzenbach- Do numbers count as words?
6. NOUN-VERB (with something before or after)
The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton- I don’t trust a book with a title that’s a complete sentence.
Before I Burn by Gaute Heivoll
Before We Met by Lucie Whitehouse
You Disappear by Christian Jungerson
The only 2014 book I’ve found that doesn’t seem to fit any of the six categories is Andrew’s Brain by E.L. Doctorow. I almost said that the “the” or “a” is implied and put it in either Category #3 or #4. but I need to think about that. Maybe it’s the rare title exception.
Three books from 2014 that I’ve started reading are The Kept, The Ascendant, and Foreign Gods, Inc. I guess I like short titles. The category that I’m least likely to read is the NOUN-PREPOSITIONAL PHRASE. To me, it seems overdone and overdramatic (but maybe the books are also overdramatic). I guess I don’t like titles with long prepositional phrases either. There’s no way I’ll read Under the Wide and Starry Sky or On Such a Full Sea, but I’ve started reading In the Blood. The short prepositional phrase is just fine with me.
I know I’m not supposed to judge a book by its title, but what else are we readers supposed to do? Reviews are rigged. Covers aren’t illustrated by the author and aren’t an indication of the quality of a book. Popular authors get stale after a few books. There are too many books out there to give each one a fair chance, so if I have to choose one way to decide which books to sample/read and which ones to ignore, I’ll choose to judge a book by its title.