Book titles tend to be the last thing we analyze in a piece of literature, but they can actually really inform a work of fiction in subtle ways. They can add subtext, make allusions, and stir up controversy. Another thing they can do, is be totally repetitive and cliche. That’s right. The more you look into book titles, the more you realize they all tend to fit into a select few categories. Make that eight categories, actually. Here they are!
Some of the greatest novels of all time have centered around titular female characters. These are most commonly found in Late Romantic and Realist classics. Just to name a few: Madame Bovary, Lolita, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Mrs Dalloway, and wayyy too many more to name.
Conversely, here are some of the great novels, with titular male characters: Hamlet, Don Quixote, Macbeth, Oliver Twist, Ulysses, and really, truly, way too many more to name.
The weighty word is a solid choice, so long as it walks the line between vague and alluring well. Some notable examples: Purity, Freedom, Beloved, Jazz, Atonement, Metamorphosis.
This one might just be the most common. It’s a staple of book titles for just about every era, and every literary movement. Notable examples: The Idiot, The Stranger, The Trial, The Iliad, The Odyssey, The Vegetarian, and as usual, way too many more to name.
Noun and Noun:
Another classic, most commonly found in 19th century Russian and English Fiction. Notable examples: War and Peace, Crime and Punishment, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility.
Most book titles are not complete sentences, but some are really not complete sentences. The obvious fragment is distinctly Modernist and Postmodernist, because what’s a sentence but a jumble of woooords, mann? Notable examples: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Things They Carried, All the Light We Cannot See, A Clockwork Orange
The Biblical Reference:
Giving a shout-out to the Abrahamic tradition is a great way to imbue your book with significance before it even starts. Writers have been referencing religious texts since well, religious texts came to be. Notable recent examples: Song of Solomon, Absalom! Absalom!, The Sun Also Rises.
The Postmodern Run-on Sentence:
You can credit the Postmodernists with pioneering the weird, overlong book title frontier. If you’ve ever read a book title that felt more like a first chapter, it was most likely cooked up by a POMO writer. Some notable examples include: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Super Sad True Love Story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never do Again, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
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