Saturday, October 31, 2015

What's In A Name? or How Abbie Hoffman Stole My Imagination

On Friday Susan Oleksiw wrote a post on her blog that has had my head spinning ever since. She called it Memorable Titles and she gave a list of interesting, catchy, and/or thought-provoking titles that she liked. When I read her first paragraph the first thing that popped into my mind was The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat by Oliver Sacks and, sure enough, Susan had it on her list.

I have had a love/hate relationship with coming up with titles for books ever since I started writing. My first novel, The Old Mermaid's Tale, sort of named itself but it is a good title and a few people have told me they bought it just because they liked it.

Likewise, The Crazy Old Lady in the Attic's title came from a line in the book. When young Mattie came to live with her grandmother in Boston after her parents were killed, the noise of the city frightened her and when she woke up at night to strange sounds, her grandmother would say, “Oh, don't worry, that's just the crazy old lady in the attic.” I have said before that I never intended to write a sequel but people kept asking for it and a few women told me that their husband's bought the book for them because it was about her. So, when I finally did I named it The Crazy Old Lady's Revenge, then The Crazy Old Lady Unleashed, and most recently, The Crazy Old Lady's Secret. If I ever write another one, I'll have to keep that up.

Both my Halcyon Beach stories and my Marienstadt stories have what I think are interesting titles. The Halcyon Beach stories are ghost stories, hence Ghosts of a Beach Town in Winter and Ghosts of a Lighthouse in Autumn. My two collections of Marienstadt short stories are The Whiskey Bottle in the Wall and The Bucktail Cap in the Trunk. Where I can go from there I have no idea.

But after reading Susan's post my head began humming with more. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hujelos has always been a favorite title as well as a favorite book. I started thinking about the fact that I was young in an era when a lot of books had crazy titles—titles that were hard to forget:

  • Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan who also gave us The Pill and the Sprin Hill Mining Disaster and Loading Mercury with a Pitchfork
  • The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe along with Radical Chic and Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, and The Bonfire of the Vanities
  • One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey
  • Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, A Generation of Swine, and Songs of the Doomed by Hunter S. Thompson

And, possibly one of the most provocative titles of all time, Steal This Book by Abbie Hoffman. I still have my original copy which was given to me by someone who swore he stole it. I've tried to come up with a title that would be as catchy as that but so far have failed.

Thanks for reading.


  1. The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was a favorite when I was about ten, and then my mom had a book called Miss Pooky Peckinpaugh and Her Secret Private Boyfriends Complete with Telephone Numbers.

    I was mystified by that one. I just looked it up, and saw it was written by the author of the Eloise books. I've asked Mom why she bought it, and she doesn't even remember it.

  2. And of course, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Illusions, the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

  3. Oh my gosh, those titles in the first post are hilarious! I'll have to look them up.

    How could I have forgotten ZEN??? Thanks.

  4. Where Ever You Go, There You Are, and A Perfect Day fo r Banana Fish are two of my favorites, I've read most of the mentioned books and I'm glad to see readers with similar taste.


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