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02 April, 2006
Have you come across books with titles so outstanding you're enticed to read them? I have, and more often than not, they turned out to be good reads. I'm not sure why that is; perhaps the care the author took to choose a title indicates the care he took to write the story.
Ernest Hemingway's books have excellent titles. My favorite is For Whom the Bell Tolls, which came from a sermon by 16th century preacher and poet John Donne ["any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee"]. The perfect title for the story of a man's sense of honor and duty in time of war.
I found Dave Eggers' A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius a pretentious title at first but the story of a young man who adopted his 8-year old brother after their parents died totally disarmed me. This endearing autobiographical book is touching, clever and funny all at once.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers is a haunting -- some might say depressing -- story about the denizens of a small Southern town. Carson was only 23 when she wrote this book, its title one of the most achingly poignant ones I've come across.
Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace is another title lifted from another author's work, William Shakespeare's Hamlet ["Alas, poor Yorick. I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy..."]. At more than 1,000 pages, this futuristic satire can be a tedious read but quite humorous and original.
Finally, W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage completes my list. This tale about one man's passions and failings is one of my perennial favorites. The title is an apt description of our eternal search for meaning, told beautifully in Maugham's staid yet deft hand.
Which are your favorite book titles? Did the books live up to your expectations?
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