Another blog post discussed covers recently, but my pet peeve at the moment concerns titles. Why must titles be pompous, abstract, or chosen for mere shock value? What is wrong with having a title that fits the story and allows a reader to associate the title with the plot?

I've just tossed two mysteries (by best-selling authors), one after the other, when I realized I'd already read them.

One is by Ruth Rendell (END IN TEARS), surely a title that could fit every single mystery you've ever read.

The other is GOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT by Reginald Hill. This title is startling and quite beautiful. No wonder. It's a line from a great poem by Emily Dickinson. Dickinson wrote a lot about death. If you want a quote for your next mystery, I can recommend her.

As a reader, I'm irritated. I'd looked forward to a couple of great reads. Both authors have written wonderful mysteries in the past. But when I had delved a few pages into both books, I realized that they hadn't really been great reads on the first occasion. They'd been forgettable.
And what bothered me on this occasion most was that the characters I was introduced to were neither likable nor sufficiently evil to remember past a certain distaste.

So perhaps there's more wrong here than the title choice. Do legendary authors reach a point where they churn out books because the publisher presses? And do they then artificially elevate the work by attaching a title more suitable to a literary work?

Oh, give me books that I'll reread in later years with the same joy as on the first occasion. And I won't forget their titles either.

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Comment by Dana King on December 31, 2008 at 5:54am
I'll admit to having trouble remembering titles, especially with writers who do series. Few things are more frustrating than coming home from the library or bookstore and realizing five pages in you've already read this. So, yes, I argue for a title that has something to do with the story, some hook to give you at least a tease of what's inside.

That's why I dislike the gimmick series titles, like Evanovich's numbers (which she has apparently discontinued) or Sue Grafton's alphabetically titles series. Which one had the guy in the morgue as the killer? Was it C is for Corpse? Or was it H is for Homicide? At least Robert B. Parker's titles have something to hook you back into the story. Hugger Mugger is about a horse named Hugger Mugger. Double Deuce is about a housing project with an address of 22. Hundred Dollar Baby is about a hooker.

And I also have to agree, there are definitely legendary writers who are cranking them out. It's become a job to them. It's discouraging in many ways, but I'm never going to criticize an author for making a living. I may not recommend his or her books, but everyone has to eat.

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