I've just finished reading The Ill-Tempered Clavichord by S J Perelman. The titles of some of his other books are even better: Acres and Pains, or Underneath the Spreading Atrophy. He goes absolutely overboard when titling some of his chapters: 'The Song is Endless, but the Malady Lingers On', 'Sing Out, Sweet Opiate', 'Nirvana Small By a Waterfall.'
A few days ago, I even thought of making a list of the first words of Perelman titles: 'Up', 'Nesselrode', 'The', 'Cloudland', 'Chewies', 'Salesman', 'Cloudland', 'Personne' ... It is clever enough to use Latin words in your title, but 'Chewies' is sheer genius.
One or two had me stumped. 'Nesselrode to Jeopardy', for instance. What the hell does that mean? Is it a Spoonerism? Does it make any more sense if we swap the first letters around, so, 'Jesselrode to Neopardy'? Or 'Jeopalrode to Nesseldy'? Maybe it's a pun about somebody called Jessel (whoever he was) who rode to Lombardy (wherever that is) to do something important (whatever that was) for somebody else (whyever ... ah, to hell with it).
I love Perelman's writing, but I can't claim to understand it.
Ogden Nash, who once wrote a musical with Perelman, came up with some corkers of his own. 'Quick, Hammacher, my Stomacher!' 'What To Do Until The Doctor Goes, Or, It's Tomorrow Than You Think', and 'Polterguest, my Poltgerguest'. Maybe there was an American tradition in the 1950s to work in a mixture of clever popular and classical references into the titles. Woody Allen's titles are presumptuously unassuming, if that makes sense (and it's not supposed to). 'Lovborg's Women Considered' . Or 'The Early Essays'. Though when Allen comes up with a title like 'If The Impressionists Had Been Dentists (A Fantasy Exploring the Transition of Temperament)', you know you're in the hands of a master. Which might be a bit of a problem, if your name happens to be 'Mia Farrow' ...
P J O'Rourke wrote some of my favourite titles. 'How To Drive Fast While on Drugs And Getting Your Wing Wang Squeezed and Not Even Spill Your Drink' pretty much sums up the whole Gonzo journalism aesthetic. 'Harry Interviews a Grown Up', a wonderful early O'Rourke vignette, delivers what it promises. A personal favourite is the deviously titled 'An Intellectual Experiment' - in which O'Rourke reads the New York Times Book Review for three hours and then watches television for three hours 'in order to determine which is best: smart or stupid.'
Most of my favourite examples come from America, although that's not to say that British writers don't come up with some wonderful captions. One British paper - was it The Sun? - called Paul Keating 'The Lizard of Oz' in a headline after he placed his hand on the back of the Queen. Strangely, highbrow British and European papers seem to title their essays with whole sentences. You know, 'The rich West must stop grabbing the profits but ducking the costs', that sort of thing. This style isn't without its own humour. I like this one from a recent edition of The Spectator: 'Michael Foot: Gordon will do the job very well', although it really only works if you follow it up, as The Spectator did, with the caption: 'Michael Foot led Labour to defeat in 1983, the year Blair and Brown entered Parliament. He tells John Reynolds why Iraq was a catastrophe and why Brown will be a great PM.' Bitchy and polite at the same time - exactly the sort of thing you expect from a Tory mag!
Blog titling, of course, is an art all of its own. I like the following, for various reasons:
A spectre is haunting my brain ...
Interview with the Gempire
Ask a hyperactive fat kid
Tony T's blog titles are the best (and his posts are even better). I think he told me once that all he cared about was getting a good headline. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. But here's just a few - all taken from the past few weeks on his blog:
And Justice for Hall
Post Lacks Visible Panty Line
Of course, titling a blog post all about titles might just be a title too far. Maybe Tony would have been able to come up with a better title for this one. Maybe I should have just titled it 'Sir' and been done with it ...
What's your favourite title? At the moment, I'm rather fond of the Mel Brook's film with the grandiose nomenclature, 'History of the World: Part 1'. What the hell comes after Part 1? (Part 2 never will be made, but apparently contains episodes called 'Hitler on Ice' and 'Jews in Space'. Is there a part 3, do you think?)
More importantly still, how else am I going to end a post about titles but by saying that the book I'm currently reading is by an author who calls himself 'Lemony Snicket', and that it's the 13th and last book in a series titled 'A Series of Unfortunate Events'. So: not only is the book titled 'The End' the end of this post, but the book titled 'The End' is also the end of a series called 'A Series': of all fitting ends to this series about titles, no end is more fitting than to use the title 'The End' to bring this post to the end. The End.
Tim, your links stink, you fink!
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- A Zemblanian abroad and at home
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- THE SLAMMA!
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- The briefs...
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