looking to write a book, of all the problems and headaches involved none is more
pronounced than finding a great title. When I wrote my book on the life and work
of Lao She, I should have left his name off the title. No one can pronounce it
and the rest of the title would have caught the eye of the buyer better. "China's
Master Storyteller," was all I needed.
Another problem is that all the
best titles have been used. Of the billions of books, whether written on clay
tablets, papyrus, or paper, in thousands of languages, there are no great book
titles left. This includes the thousands of languages, down through the ages,
with great titles, many lost, but they once existed. I would not want to steal
even a Sanskrit title.
After writing magazine articles for years and newspaper
opinion pieces and a few books that never made anybody's best-seller list, I wanted
to try again. But not until I could find a good unused title.
I saw an
ad for a book whose title would be right for my musings on the Bible's Holy Land.
Aaron David Miller beat me to the punch with his book, "The Much Too Promised
Land." Even his sub-title, "America's Elusive Search For Arab-Israeli Peace,"
would be good enough for me. I would have to rearrange some words because I'm
writing about the Holy Promised Land as it was when flowing with milk and honey.
like, "A Pilgrim's Elusive Search for Truth in Israel's History," might be good,
but it's too long. A long title demands a longer book than I have in mind. (I'm
only writing on what is between Genesis and Revelation.)
"Teaching a Hippo
to Dance," as far as I know, has not been used as a book title. There are several
problems with this title. I went to my high school prom, but no one dared stumble
with me and my non-nimble feet. And I have not been tempted in public since then.
Another problem is dancing hippos are rare in the streets of Jerusalem, and have
little to do with my book's theme once we get past Noah and the Great Flood.
"Tried by War" looked to be a good title since the Old Testament is filled with
war. Everything about those wars were trying. The first killing resulted from
different opinions on worshipping God. And it has only gotten worse throughout
the ages right up to this enlightened 21st century. The Apostle Paul urged the
Christians to put on their armor; to fight the good fight.
"Tried by War"
stuck me as a possible book title. Then I noticed that Penguin published James
M. McPherson's "Tried by War." Jay Winik in the Boston Globe said this book is
destined to become a classic. Wow, I almost wrote a classic.
That Failed," by Elliot and Atkinson, looked good. Their book is all about people's
unfortunate faith in money markets and how we got into this economic mess. My
book would be about how Israel's God was victorious against Baal, Astherah, Artemis,
the gods of Moab, Egypt and Beelzebub. The wicked gods of Sodom and Gomorrah didn't
know what hit them. The Old Testament God did not even spare the golden calf his
Then I saw the book by Simon Critchley, "The Book of Dead Philosophers," I thought
of the people who see the Bible as dull and dead. That was when I had the title
I needed. Just change philosophers to prophets: "The Book of Dead Prophets." I
could possibly write a classic with all the exciting, far out stories in the Old
Testament book of "Hezekiah".
The Fifth century Greek playwright Aeschylus
in Prometheus Bound (not a bad title) wrote, "Time, as he grows old, teaches many
lessons." Time is teaching me to move on beyond book titles and get the book written.
Time teaches many lessons, but it never slows down for any of us "writers."
(P.S.—There is no book of Hezekiah in the Bible.)
the Way with Britt,
July 25, 2009 Column