Mis-Titled Books: An Epidemic

In a few short months, I have encountered more than one a book that was completely mis-titled, and that completely changed my expectations, and enjoyment, of the books.

Let's take Caleb's Crossing, which I thought was one of Geraldine Brooks' least successful novels. I couldn't quite understand what was wrong: I thought the narrator brought interesting perspective to the story, which itself was interesting... and yet —

My friend Carole suggested the title was misleading, and I wholeheartedly agreed. Had the title included "Martha's Vineyard," "woman" or "Harvard," I would have been better prepared for the lack of Caleb in the story. I can't say I would have liked it better, but I would have approached it differently.

http://www.earlyword.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/9780143124726_0830b.jpgThen came Philomena.

This book club selection seemed pretty straight-forward: it was about an Irish woman named Philomena and her search for the son she gave up for adoption in Ireland and the British journalist who helped her. Wasn't it?

IThe title on the new paperback release of Martin Sixsmith's book, it turns out, was as new as the cover featuring Dame Judy Dench. The book also included a forward by the actor. I hadn't planned to read the book, but the movie seemed interesting. However, fate intervened, and I picked up a copy at Target.

I found the story tragic, but also confusing. I couldn't figure out why the book featured only a short bit of Philomena at the beginning. Readers soon left her behind to follow her toddler son to America, watching him grow into a tortured, confused and self-protective man. Every once in a while I'd close the book and look at the bright cover, the only place that featured Philomena. The author poked his head in every once in a while, which was jarring and drew me away from Michael.

Had I done a little more research, I would have been less surprised. The original title and cover were more appropriate to the story I had begun. The Lost Child of Philomena Lee was a tragic story about the boy Michael Hess, made all the more tantalizing by the fact that he was well-known in certain circles.

I stopped reading the book when Michael Hess was in graduate school. First, I didn't like the photos stuck in the middle that, unfortunately, revealed the end. More importantly, however, was the betrayal by the editor and publisher: the story I had agreed to read featured Philomena as the lead, not Michael. Perhaps had I finished, I'd have gotten the story I expected, but I'll never know.

I understand that covers influence readers, and subsequent editions and covers are more explicit or revealing (A Reliable Wife comes to mind, a delicious book with an accurate title and two very different, yet compelling, covers). Titles, however, are even more crucial, and a mis-titled book can confuse and possibly derail many an intrepid reader.

I usually peruse the Library of Congress information at the front of the book, but now I think I will have to make that required reading. I don't want to be tricked like that again.