Top Ten Tuesday: extraordinary book titles

Text only: top ten TUESDAY

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, and is now hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl. It’s all about books, lists and sharing the love we have of both with our bookish friends. This week, we’re talking about unusual book titles on our shelves.

I often talk about how much a good cover influences my book buying choices, but what about a really good title? One that leaps out from the horde of A/The X of Y or The X of Y and Z (or even The X of Y Zs)? Don’t get me wrong, the right combination of Xs, Ys and Zs can get me pretty excited too, but it’s a much bigger ask. No, give me a title that’s tantalising – one that hints at intriguing world-building or evokes a certain mood; or one that gives you a challenging glance from across the room and then never makes eye contact again.

If there’s one author who consistently hits the nail on the head for me it’s the ridiculously talented Becky Chambers.

The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet was both whimsical and intriguing (TELL ME MORE ABOUT THIS SMALL ANGRY PLANET), and promised a journey (yay! Let’s go!). A Closed and Common Orbit was so intimate – would it explore frustration or devotion? – and Record of a Spaceborn Few just cut my heartstrings right there and then (a history! Why so few? Oh no, are they dying out? HELP). As for To Be Taught, If Fortunate, it’s practically literature all by itself: an invitation to learn and to debate politics, philosophy and education. Her titles have this amazing ability to spark my imagination and engage my emotions. My brain is already in gear before I even start reading.

So, Becky Chambers wins at everything. Having agreed on that (what’s that? You didn’t agree? That’s okay, I suspect this week’s top tens are going to be brilliantly varied and I’m really excited to come read yours so drop me a link in the comments) let’s move right along to ten top titles that aren’t Becky Chambers books.

The City in the Middle of the Night – Charlie Jane Anders

Oh hi, I have instant world-building questions! How is this world going to work if this is an accurate thumbnail of our setting? And the world-building here is epic, very much living up to the promise of the title, although I like the title rather more than I liked the book itself.

Across the Nightingale Floor – Lian Hearn

Well hello there you intriguing title you: what’s a nightingale floor, then? Who will have to cross it and why? This is a title that makes you want to read the blurb, hinting at a certain gracefulness of setting and an intrinsic challenge to be risen to (all of which the book happily delivers on).

Against a Dark Background – Iain M Banks

I think this just appeals to my inner teenage angst, to be honest. It’s so broody. It doesn’t have to be – a light shines brightest against a dark background – but funny how I never considered that until right now. This title promised bleak world-building and double-crosses; and, uh, that’s what you get. So I wasn’t wrong. I still have a soft spot for this occasionally absurdist thrill ride.

The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

Like Chambers, Adams was a master of the excellent title. Hitch Hiker’s and Restaurant at the End of the Universe (practically an X of Y, but such scope) just make you want to jump on the first passing spaceship; the rest of the series has names that are knowingly self-referential and yet suggestive of Big Themes. Then there’s the weird, slightly threatening Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

Under the Pendulum Sun – Jeannette Ng

This one gets me with pure whimsy. A what sort of sun now? What does it even mean? Where (not) on earth are we? Like Across the Nightingale Floor, this made me reach for the blurb to find out exactly what unusual story was hidden behind the name (and I’m so glad I did – this is a huge favourite, and now multi-award winning!)

We Are All Completely Fine – Daryl Gregory

Look at that: I’m worried already, and I don’t even know who is speaking. Are they okay? Why are they telling me they are okay? Clearly they’re not okay. Maybe they need a hug or a cup of tea. They should tell me about it. This is a brilliant concept that didn’t quite work for me at novella length (although I’d happily read an extended edition).

The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – Alan Garner

As I said, The X of Y can be pretty exciting if you make it work hard enough. Garner gave me a beautiful polysyllabic name (I didn’t know it was Norse, I just wanted to know all about it) and the fantastical-sounding weirdstone. Even the creepy cover wasn’t putting me off reading about that.

This is How You Lose The Time War – Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

Who, me? That’s a bit confrontational, isn’t it? I didn’t even know I was fighting a time war. But, um, time war, eh? There’s a good solid concept. Tell me more about this time war I’m going to lose. And how I’m going to lose it. Go on. And so the book picked me right up with that challenging, teasing tone, nailed my feelings to the wall and hammered them until I surrendered.

On A Red Station, Drifting – Aliette de Bodard

There’s always room for a bit of poetry on my shelf (not to mention titles with punctuation. See also: Three Cups of Grief, by Starlight). I love the ambiguity – we don’t know who or what is on the station, or whether the drifting is physical or metaphorical (we don’t even know if it’s the station or whatever is on the station that is drifting). It’s just so damn pretty. I feel much the same about all the Xuya novella names, in fact (and yes, The Citadel of Weeping Pearls is another X of Y Z that I’m a big fan of).

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – Catherynne Valente

I suspect publishers – or certainly cover designers – hate long titles. It’s a heck of a design challenge, after all. I love them. Some are long and yet tantalisingly obscure, even to the point of seeming smug about it (note: I don’t consider this a bad thing), and  this one is so transparent it’s a plot synopsis (but: what a plot! Tell me more!)

What extraordinary titles are sat on your shelf?