RIP Ursula K. LeGuin. One of my favourite authors died last week and while it’s sad to know that there won’t be any new stories to look forward to, I’m endlessly grateful for the ones I got to read. The internet was awash with obits, online and off, after the news broke, and initially I wanted to write one of my own. Maybe one day I’ll be able to say more than “I loved her books”, and when that times comes, I’ll probably write that post. For now, and for today’s Monday musings, remembering her books has sent me wondering about the power of names on – in this case – book titles.
My favourite book of Ursula K. LeGuin’s, one of my favourite books ever, is The Left Hand of Darkness. I love the characters, I love the story, and the title conjures up all manner of ideas and associations. To imagine that I almost missed out on reading this story is kinda scary.
Yet this is what almost happened.
Because I first came across the story while I was still living in Germany. And the German translation had been given the very uninspiring title “Winter Planet.”
Every time I was in the library perusing the sci-fi shelves I came across the book. And every time I passed it by, because what kind of interesting story could possibly hide behind such a boring title? It wasn’t until I was at university and tripped over the thing in the library there that I finally gave up and took it home.
And was hooked.
I don’t want to imagine that I might never have met Therem Harth rem ir Estraven. It doesn’t bear thinking about, because my life would be poorer for not knowing him. But I do wonder how such a wonderful book with such an intriguing title ended up so badly mutilated in the translation.
For me, naming a story is like naming a baby. Not a descriptor as much as it’s a wish, an expectation, something I hope will grow to fit. In many cases, the title comes to me as soon as I have an idea what the story is all about. Sometimes, the title comes the moment I have the idea for the story, and it’s only weeks later that I realise why my subconscious mind was so sure what the title should be. Swings & Roundabouts, the fourth Jack and Gareth book, didn’t get its name until quite late – which is unusual for me. But then, Swings proved a very tricky story to write and it wasn’t until I’d worked out what was wrong with Gareth that the whole started to make sense and then the title was just there…
I’ve already shown that boring, bland book titles have the capacity to turn me firmly away from a story. Now I’m wondering if that’s just me or if it’s the same for others. So, here’s a question: Do book titles have the power to stop you from reading a book?