The Truths and Myths that Lie Behind Some of Your Favorite Book Titles

My wife is a “dollar store diva.”

On some occasions, she will bring me a book she’s found there.

Most never made the New York Times bestseller list.

She knows my interests.

She likes to surprise me.

51l1mp0kF4L._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_SX285_SY380_CR,0,0,285,380_SH20_OU01_The most recent lagniappe was a 2007 book by Gary Dexter, Why Not Catch-21?

Dexter did his homework and has assembled a collection of fifty enlightening essays informing and entertaining readers with the back-stories of the titles of some of our favorite books. Yes, books. No short stories or poems. He details in the foreword his criteria for inclusion. In addition to the “books only” rule, the title must be inexplicable from reading the text. There are other rules, but these are the most important.

The stories are interesting, informative, and clever. Many include alternative titles and why they ultimately were not used. I confess that I was not familiar with over twenty of the fifty titles chosen, but encouraged that many of my personal favorites were there, including: Hamlet, The Swiss Family Robinson, A Study in Scarlet, The Great Gatsby, A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty-four, and of course, the subject of the title.

There are no catches one through twenty-one.

As Heller writes, “There was only one catch and that was Catch-22.”

Another of the fifty titles deals with numbers: 1984. How did Orwell chose that year? Was it simply a reversal of the year it was published (1948)? With “Snopes-like” accuracy, Dexter corrects the myths and reveals the truth. As it turns out, the date was of little significance to the author who actually considered a title with no numbers.

Universal Studios’ famous monster movie of 1931 most likely had a geographical namesake, the Castle Frankenstein.

A Swiss pastor named his book, which later became a Disney film, after another book’s eponymous title. The Swiss family’s name was never actually given. Apparently the man of the cloth was simply paying tribute to DeFoe’s eighteenth century classic about a shipwrecked man. During that century, an entire genre of books (Robinsonades) came about because so many books included the name, Robinson, in the title.

51pGIsuFnbL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-59,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_Dorian Greeks were a tribe that descended into the Greek peninsula around 1000 B.C. (That fact offered in one of the many footnotes.) They were associated with “Greek” love. Could the title of Oscar Wilde’s book about a picture been a coded reference to a male lover?

In addition to the aforementioned copious footnotes, Dexter includes a thorough appendix of sources and suggestions for further reading. A detailed index completes the project.

Recently I was invited to speak at the monthly dinner meeting of the Waynesville (NC) book club about my book, The Tourist Killer.

It was inevitable that one of the first questions was, “How did you pick that title?”

I like the double entendre.

I have an alluring attraction to alliteration also. (Which has nothing to do with the title.)

My main character is a baby boomer who likes to take a vacation before each job assignment.

She’s an elite professional assassin.

She’s a killer.

Claudia Barry doesn’t kill tourists — she becomes one — before each job.

The original plan was to write a “travel novel.” One in which characters visited many different locations. We planned to include photos of locations and settings featured in the book. It made sense to me that having a main character that travels a lot would work well as an assassin. It does. A traveling hired killer who needs a break from the tension before each assignment.

She becomes a tourist herself.

Soon after publishing, it became clear that I would be signing copies. I asked my wife for suggestions for something to write in the books. I didn’t want to be like Roxie Hart and just write, “Good luck to ya.”

With a sly nod at the title’s double entendre, Miss Bob quickly came up with, “Be careful where you go on vacation.”

With that warning, there’s a catch. And there’s only one catch.

Please click the book cover to read more about the Tourist Killer on Amazon.

 

 

 

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  • Good article. I always like those behind the scenes type books that give us a glimpse into the author’s thinking. I’ll be careful where I vacation.

    • Aren’t stories like that great?
      I’d like to hear about some of the titles in our VGAC group.

  • I’ve never taken a vacation to relax after an assassination. But i have been on a few where I would like to kill somebody before I get home.

  • Very clever, but I have come to expect it from you. Nice tie back. Haven’t been on a holiday in 10 years. Maybe that’s why I’m still alive – most days anyway.

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