Duality Creates The Best Book Titles

Titles are important. They are the most important sentence of a book. If we don’t like the title, we don’t read the book. That’s the power they have. If there’s a mediocre sentence in the middle of a great book it won’t matter. But because the title determines whether we read the rest of the book it is key.

It is like a rock rolling down a hill. Once it is moving it is hard to stop. Once we are reading a book it is easy to finish. Getting the rock moving is the hard part, just as getting us to begin reading is the hard part. That’s the job of the title.

Let’s take a look at some great book titles to explore what makes them great. The titles come from a list of ‘Best Book Titles’ which can be found on Goodreads:

1. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
by Philip K. Dick

Why is it a great title? Technology is a topic that readers love. Whether it’s because we fear the power of technology or are excited by it, any title with ‘Android’ captures attention.

Furthermore, the question evokes curiosity. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? While we don’t actually think they dream of sheep, it makes us wonder if machines can feel. Just how ‘human’ machines are? How ‘human’ they will become? Those questions make us want to read the book.

2. Something Wicked This Way Comes
by Ray Bradbury

Why is it a great title? It makes as fear what is coming down the way. By using ‘Something’ it creates an ambiguity that can only be settled by reading the book. Furthermore, it is a chilling title. We feel a chill down our spine — if we want more of that feeling we must read.

3. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams

Why is it a great title? The contrast makes it a great title. Exploring the galaxy is a crazy, incredible, almost unimaginable thing to do. Yet a hitchhiker’s guide is a banal everyday object. It makes the crazy idea of exploring the galaxy more real and achievable. That’s an adventure we want to explore.

4. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
by Seth Grahame-Smith

Why is it a great title? Firstly, this title steals the positive associations that people have towards the classic ‘Pride and Prejudice’. Secondly, once again we see a contrast in the title with zombies. It’s this duality, sensitivity contrast with gore, sophistication contrast with unsophistication that makes it an interesting title.

5. I Was Told There’d Be Cake
by Sloane Crosley

Why is it a great title? Haha. We respond to this title with a chuckle. We think that since the title made us laugh, the rest of the book will too. We immediately get a sense of the type of book it is going to be — funny and not too serious.

6. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
by Mark Haddon

Why is it a great title? We are given clues about a mysterious event but not the entire picture. We know there was a dog. We know it was at night. But what was the incident? The concreteness of the dog combined with the ambiguous incident leaves our mind to wonder what happened. People don’t like not knowing something. This title makes us realise we don’t know something — the incident. The only way we can fill in this gap in our knowledge is by reading the book.

7. Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation
by Lynne Truss

Why is it a great title? It’s hilarious. Here’s why: A panda walks into a café. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

“Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

The heading reminds us of the panda story. We think of the heading. We think of the story. We laugh. But more than that, the short story conveys the simply conveys the theme of the book — the importance of correct punctuation.

The author could have titled her book, ‘Punctuation Is REALLY Important’. But a story gets that point across much better. A story makes the importance of punctuation not only more believable, but more memorable.

8. The Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse
by Robert Rankin

Why is it a great title? We think of ‘bunnies’ we think of cute, fluffy creatures. We think of ‘apocalypse’ and we think fire raining down on us from above. Again, it is the contrast that creates a compelling title.

9. To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee

Why is it a great title? Again there is a contrast between ‘kill’ and the harmless ‘mockingbird’. But this title is more than a contrast. It makes us feel. It makes us angry. The death of an innocent mockingbird? Of course we are angry. Furthermore, it foreshadows the story and serves as a single sentence summary of the book. Once we know the story, the title becomes even more meaningful. The short, single sentence carries the emotional weight of the story. It is the perfect metaphor.

10. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
by Milan Kundera

Why is it a great title? Once again, there is a contrast. The phrase ‘lightness of being’ is usually a positive statement. But putting ‘unbearable’ at the front of it brings a contrast. It flips the idea on its head. Furthermore, it implies it will be dealing with the everyday struggles of being human. That is something everyone can relate to. Thus, it is a book that everyone can buy.

The underlying theme of these headings is contrast. Whether it’s between fear and excitement, sophistication and naivety, anger and love, there is a duality of concepts that compel us. These titles don’t show us they will be tackling something easy. They hint they are tackling a complex subject. They aren’t inviting us to a lecture. They’re inviting us on an adventure.

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