I’ve always had a thing for titles. A perfect title excites and lodges itself in your brain long before you see the thing it’s describing, and then doesn’t let go after.
Some of the great titles I adore, off the top of my head: Glengarry Glen Ross
(the melody of that phrase + the mystery of its meaning + the eventual mundanity of it all). The Soul of a New Machine,
a seminal computer history book from 1981 (I mean…
). Dave Not Coming Back,
a recent documentary.
But what I really get excited about happens one level deeper.
For TV shows, it’s not the show title, but the episode titles.
Back in the day, I’ve spent hours obsessing about the titles of installments of favourite shows like ER
or The West Wing
. “Fevers of Unknown Origin.” “Constituency of One.” “Choosing Joi.” Those – earnest, maybe a little pretentious, definitely gimmick-free
– stayed with me long after the respective title card left the screen.
For movies, since I don’t often look at DVD menus, the tiles can be found in movie soundtracks,
which have to label their tracks and often do so based on events from the movie. I sometimes buy and listen to a movie score before seeing its matching film – although you have to be careful
– and once in a while I even come up with fictional soundtrack listings for books I’d like to turn into movies.
(What. You don’t do that…?)
And for books, it’s chapter titles I find most rewarding. As you probably already know from my newsletter titles
, I aim for a specific style: strange, maybe a bit more thoughtful than it seems, just the right amount of mysterious. I love non-fiction books with fiction-book-like chapter titles. I adore beautiful turns of phrases. And I admire titles that perhaps won’t mean much until you actually read a chapter – and even then, you might have to work to connect with what you’ve just read.
Tables of contents like these are a pleasure to check out before reading. I love opening a new book from the back (in Poland and parts of Europe, books have their tables of contents at the end, and so will mine) and then just scanning the chapter titles, the strange universe of the book laid out like an itinerary – one I barely comprehend, but one I am excited to soon follow. This feels so much better to me than a straightforward chapter list, followed by an opening that spoils, one paragraph per one chapter, in great detail, what the book is going to be about.