May 25 2010
I just had a debate with author Ann Somerville about book titles. I'd complained I found some of her book titles hard to memorise, such as Somatesthesia (book info at Samhain and a dictionary entry at Dictionary.com) and Interstitial (book info at Samhain and a dictionary entry at Merriam Webster).
As I explained to her, I couldn't recall those book titles easily – let alone spell or pronounce them – when making book recommendations to various friends. I can only say, "Urm, just google her name when you get home. That's if you could even remember to do that." The only ones I could remember were Many Roads Home and On Wings, Rising (but I sometimes cocked this one up by remembering it as "On Rising Wings").
The debate got me thinking about a reader's memory and book titles from the romance genre. Some say the romance genre probably has the biggest output of novels in history of literature. With so many romance novels around, how do we remember certain books?
I think there are two usual ways of remembering a book: a title or an author. It depends, though. There are some readers who manage to remember both. There are some readers who couldn't remember either, so they could only remember the details of a story.
For the romance genre, I think it's an author's name that readers remember the most, which is somewhat different from readers of general literature who are likely to recommend just titles alone. Gone With the Wind. A Clockwork Orange. White Teeth. To Kill a Mocking Bird. Fight Club. Women in Love. Life of Pi. Far From the Madding Crowd. Birdsong. Forever Amber. The Beach. Pride and Prejudice. My Brilliant Career. The Da Vinci Code. The Poisonwood Bible. Whether you read all of these or not, it's likely you recognise certain titles as the work of so-and-so.
That's not usually the case with romance titles; probably because the majority of romance titles tend to be generic. Or awkward as hell, like some of Ann Somerville's book titles and HQN author Carla Cassidy's legendary HQN title, Pregnesia.
Sure, there are some titles that the majority recognises, such as Dream Man, Outlander, McKenzie's Mountain, Lord of Scoundrels, Rejar, and so on. But these tend to appear frequently in lists of favourite books, which make it easier for some of us to memorise those titles.
So I believe it is authors' names general romance readers remember the most. And I truly believe that without an author's name, most readers would struggle to recognise a non-distinctive title as a certain author's work. Once we know whose books we're discussing, we recall titles quite easily. Take a recent book discussion for example. Someone asked about Nobody's Baby But Mine and there wasn't a response. One person asked, "Who wrote NBBM?" It was Susan Elizabeth Phillips. That prompted a mass of responses from readers. I have to admit when I saw that title, I thought it was a Susan Andersen book, but I eventually realised I confused it with Andersen's contemporary romance series (Baby, I'm Yours; Be Mine, Baby, and Baby, Don't Go).
And how about a book series with similar titles? It practically kills me! Sometimes, I have a problem remembering which story belongs to which title. Such as Mary Balogh's Simply series, Amanda Quick's one-word titles (Mistress, Seduction, etc.) and Meljean Brook's Demon series. I still don't know how readers manage to do this with a longer book series, such as J.D. Robb's In Death series, Lora Leigh's ??? series, and Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series. How do you do it? Without checking a book database or reviews?
I did wonder if book titles taken from songs or films would work better because of a memory association? Julia Quinn's film-inspired titles, such as Ten Things I Love About You (Film: Ten Things I Hate About You), How to Marry a Marquis (How to Marry a Millionaire), The Viscount Who Loved Me (The Spy Who Loved Me), To Sir Philip, With Love (To Sir, With Love), and so on. (Note: many of these films were based on novels so let's ignore this little mountain.)
How about Harlequin/Mills & Boon book titles? Would it be unwise of me to go there? Hell, yeah, but I'm going there, anyway. I'm talking about the sort of these titles – I'm hyper-linking those titles in case you don't believe me – The Nurse's Brooding Boss, From Playboy to Papa!, Tamed: the Barbarian King, And Babies Make Five, High-Society Secret Baby; Propositioned Into a Foreign Affair, Daddy Devastating; Fixed Up with Mr. Right?, Mistress: Pregnant By the Spanish Billionaire; Bachelor’s Bought Bride, Twelve-Gauge Guardian, One Night with the Wealthy Rancher, Posh Doc, Society Wedding; Lost in a Stallion's Arms, The Illegitimate King, Good Girl or Gold-Digger?, Bedded by Blackmail, and Executive’s Pregnancy Ultimatum. You get the idea.
I can understand why this kind of these titles exists. A typical HQN/M&B title usually summarises the key elements of a story to help readers – usually while shopping in a supermarket – to decide which to buy without having to read a book blurb. In a way, a HQN/M&B title functions just like a headline of a magazine or newspaper.
But honestly, some HQN/M&B titles are sheer (excuse my language) bat-shit crazy and hard to memorise. How do readers remember any of those titles? Could you easily recall those titles when making recommendations to friends?
In short, what I'd like to know is how do you remember generic or awkward book titles? Or even remember all titles of a series? Could you even remember which story goes with a title of a book series? What is your usual method of remembering book titles (or indeed, authors' names)?