Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way

By Levinson, Martin H. | et Cetera, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Now All We Need Is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got That Way


Levinson, Martin H., et Cetera


Andre Bernard. Now All We Need is a Title: Famous Book Titles and How They Got that Way. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996.

Andre Bernard has researched the stories behind more than onehundred of the most famous, as well as some of the less famous, titles in the English language and the result is a fascinating volume rich in literary anecdote and publishing lore. Here is a small sampling:

* F. Scott Fitzgerald's preferred title for his 1925 tale about the "Jazz Age" of the 1920s was Trimalchio in West Egg. His editor objected and the book came out as The Great Gatsby.

* Raymond Chandler, creator of such unforgettable novels as The Big Sleep and Farewell, My Lovely, once wrote acerbically to Alfred A. Knopf, "I'm trying to think of a good title for you to want to change."

* John Steinbeck groused, "I have never been a title man, I don't give a damn what it is called," but despite his tough stance he actually worked hard on his titles and the results are among the most memorable in American literature.

* Bel Kaufman found the title to her book, Up the Down Staircase, in the manuscript itself in a note sent by the Admiral Ass (Administrative Assistant) to the teacher regarding a delinquent boy - "Detained by me for going up the down staircase and subsequent insolence."

* Joseph Heller's Catch-22 started out as Catch-18 but a rival publisher who was about to publish Leon Uris's Mila 18 firmly protested. Heller changed his title to avoid trouble.

* Like Babbitt, Pollyanna has found its way into the dictionary as a descriptive term. Taken from the title of Eleanor Holmes's 1913 novel, a Pollyanna is described in Webster's as "a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in anything."

* Tom Wolfe had wanted to use the phrase "bonfire of the vanities" as a book title ever since a trip he'd taken to Florence where he learned that in the fifteenth century the residents of that city, at the urging of the ascetic monk Savonarola, had built a bonfire to bum their worldly goods.

* Hitler's original title for Mein Kampf was Four-and-a Half Years of Struggle Against Lies, Stupidity, and Cowardice. Tim Foote, commenting on that fact in Time magazine noted that, "Everyone needs an editor."

* The early working title of East of Eden was The Salinas Valley, Bleak House was Tom-All-Alone's Factory that Got into Chancery and Never Got Out, and Gone With the Wind was Pansy. …

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