Unmemorable Book Titles

I am probably the last person in the world who should write this post given my horrendous track record for book titles. None of my published novels has the title I came up with. Not one. But the fact that I’m the world’s least successful titler of books does not stop me from having many opinions on the subject.

For instance, t’other day I was chatting with my friend Jennifer Laughran and she was raving about a wonderful middle grade she’d recently read. Sounded great. A bit later I decided to get a copy but for the life of me I could not remember the title. I asked Jennifer. I forgot it again. And repeat.

Turns out the only reason Jennifer can remember it is because she forced herself to. The title in question—and I had to go look it up againWhen You Reach Me.

We had a long discussion about how some titles are just black holes. No matter what you do they won’t stick. For me Sherman Alexie’s wonderful book will always be Part-Time Indian and M. T. Anderson’s duology is Octavian Nothing. I love those books but no matter how hard I try I cannot get the full titles to stick in my brain.

Is it a long title thing? But I have no difficulties with E. Lockhart’s brilliant The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks or Samuel R. Delany’s genius Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand.

Maybe it’s the vagueness of the title? When You Reach Me could be any genre really. Romance, Crime, Thriller, Horror, Memoir etc. It took me ages to be able to remember the equally vague How We Live Now 1 and then Life as We Knew It came along and now the two titles are forever mashed in my brain even though the two books are very different from each other.

While not exactly the same I notice that lots of people call Scott’s Uglies and Midnighters series The Uglies and The Midnighters, which strikes me as odd given that it’s an extra word to remember. People frequently remember Magic or Madness as Magic and Madness which wipes out the premise of the book, though it reassures me that I’m not alone in forgetting and misremembering titles.2

I notice that people are having zero problems remembering the title Liar. Imagine if they’d kept the title I wanted: Why Do I Lie?

What titles do you find it impossible to remember?

Anyone got any theories about why some titles just won’t stick?

  1. Just to prove my point it’s actually How I Live Now. []
  2. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I kept giving Mick Takeuchi’s Her Majesty’s Dog the same title as Naomi Novik’s Her Majesty’s Dragon. Ooops. []


  1. Andrew on #

    It’s funny you ask, because I’m trying to remember the title of a book I read recently, and all I can get is “The thingy of Jenna what’s-her-face”. I’m sure somebody will respond with the actual title promptly…

  2. Phiala on #

    I am awful at titles, just awful. And matching them with authors? Heh. What I just read? I can tell you the plot, but not the bits that enable you to read it too.

    It’s not a memory problem per se – I can rattle off thousands of common and matching scientific names for plants – but for some reason book and story data just don’t stick.

    I’m trying to train myself to keep a list, but that isn’t going so well either.


  3. Tara Altebrando on #

    It’s funny. When I clicked through from Twitter, I thought, ‘I wonder if she’ll mention that wonderful middle-grade book I’ve read about but can never remember the name of.” Sure enough. WHEN YOU REACH ME. I have the same block! I’ve opted to remember the author’s name instead.

    People seem to have a hard time remembering the title of my book WHAT HAPPENS HERE. Everyone refers to it as “the Vegas book.” Sigh.

  4. Wendy on #

    EL Konigsburg is the worst at this… wonderful books, impossible titles. About the B’nai Bagels? The Outcasts of mumble Schuyler Place? Jennifer, Hecate, mumblemumble?

    Sarah Dessen’s titles (again, great books) generally seem totally interchangeable to me. People will mention this or that Sarah Dessen and I won’t have any idea which one they’re talking about or whether I’ve even read that one.

  5. Jennifer on #

    Andrew: Adoration of Jenna Fox?

  6. Andrew on #

    Jennifer: Yes! That’s it. Thankyou.

    Oh, and Justine – I assume that you’re referring to “How I live now”… 😉

  7. Nancy Werlin on #

    Confusion about “How I Live Now” versus “How We Live Now” is even more inevitable given the existence of Anthony Trollop’s “The Way We Live Now”.

  8. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I think we’re going to have another rash of that with the current preponderance of one word YA titles. I loved the meme that went around recently where you picked a random word and made a YA title out of it.

    And I say this while having one of those one word YA titles.

  9. Diana Peterfreund on #

    One that, I’d like to point out, Justine has had the hardest time remembering. Rampage? Rampart?

  10. Justine on #

    Andrew: Good catch and one that excellently proves my point.

    Diana: Okay, you got me. Truth is that I’m shite at remembering titles. My memory is rubbish.

  11. Rebekah on #

    Liar definitely beats Why do I lie? – the latter sounds too self-reflective for the book, as if she’s asking herself rather than answering the question.

  12. Leah on #

    I’m not that great at remembering titles either. I don’t think it’s the length, as I’m fine with Maureen McCarthy’s When You Wake and Find Me Gone, and even Queen Kat, Carmel and St Jude Get a Life. Not my favourite titles, though…

    I think the problem is as people have said above – similarities to other titles, and/or blandness. As I see it, a good title should be distinctive and have a clear (and memorable!) connection to the content of the book.

  13. MissAttitude on #

    I’m generally pretty good at remembering titles but the hardest ones for me are the Twilight, HP and Private/any other rich-girl/clique-y titles.
    I could probably remember Why do I lie? But Liar I will for sure remember!

  14. Lu on #

    Totally irrelevant! HOWEVER: I just read When You Reach Me and it’s AH-MAZING. Seriously. SO GOOD.

    As for titles, I’m okay. I don’t really notice forgetting one kind of title over another. I’d argue the same goes for book covers, though!

  15. Cheryl on #

    The title that disappointed me with its blandness is Someone Knows My Name — I had to look it up to get it right just now.

    Yeah, names are important in the story and all, but it sounds like a dozen other books out there and tells you nothing about it except that it might be vaguely preachy. Doesn’t even give you an idea of the genre.

    The original, Canadian, title is The Book of Negroes. Far different, eh? Easier to remember and gives you an idea at least of when the book is set, if not what it’s about. If the US publishers had to change it (which is debatable) why couldn’t they have come up with something better?

  16. anne on #

    well,as a librarian sort of person, I am supposed to “know” titles, and authors…but I find that I can seldom recall the actual title, and I “know” who the author IS, but can’t recall the name…and yet, I am generally able to find the books that the patron is seeking. I tend to think of books by their character names, or what happens in them. But if the picture on the cover actually relates to the title (like the Two Towers cover back in the 70s), then I am better with the words.

    But the public has trouble as well. Often I’ll get a very serious person, child or adult, who says, “Can you help me find this book? I don’t know the title, but it’s green…”

  17. Julia Rios on #

    Not a book, but I consistently forget Flight of the Conchords, and call it The Flying Conchords. This exasperates and amuses my partner by turns.

  18. capt. cockatiel on #

    I don’t think I usually have this problem, which is odd, I guess. For me it’s usually not remembering the author of a book with a long title. Like I have no idea who wrote “Someday This Pain will be Useful to You” but I loved that book and would always remember the title — because it’s long. I guess for longer titles my brain says “one or the other” and I pick the title (more handy when trying to put holds online than sorting through numerous pages after an author search).

  19. SMD on #

    How exactly are we supposed to comment on titles we can’t remember? If we can’t remember them, then we obviously cannot tell you what they are… 😛

  20. Jennifer on #

    Romance titles tend to be so generic that you could slap them onto any book. I find this irritating and would like the title to at least vaguely refer to the freaking plot so I can remember which book that was later, thanks.

    I feel sorry for Suzanne Brockmann because she’s had “Into the (word)” titles like what, 3-4 times now? Sometimes in a row, no less.

  21. Jessica Leader on #

    I was exactly like that with WHEN YOU REACH ME! I kept having to log into this one website where I knew people had discussed it to see its title. I could remember the cover image…I could remember that it touched on A WRINKLE IN TIME…I just…couldn’t…remember…what the heck it was called. Always good not to feel alone!

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