June 27, 2013

To the ends of the earth and again ... and again ... and again

Just one end among many ...

In my last post I explored the perennial problem of judging books by their covers even if we pretend we don't, and that led me to think also about titles. Does a title also influence us when we buy a book? Which titles stay in the memory and for what reason?

And while one might expect most writers would try to give their books titles that are distinctive, in too many cases there is a noticeable lack of imagination. Are publishers or editors to blame? As with the duplicate artwork mentioned in my earlier post, it looks as if not enough attention is given to make sure a book's title hasn't been over-worked or that it won't be confused with others in the same genre. There is no excuse any more about other books with the same title being difficult to find. Within a few seconds you can have at your fingertips the titles of nearly every book ever published.

One notable example of this was when I went looking for information on a book that had been made into a TV historical drama called To the Ends of the Earth.  I consulted www.bookfinder.com

I quickly found the particular book I was interested in (William Golding), but was surprised to come across novelists like Elizabeth Lowell, David Yallop, Valerio Massimo Manfredi and many other popular writers who have books entitled To the Ends of the Earth, or with slight variations - e.g. without To or the or with a singular End.  

I then realized from further browsing through the long list at bookfinder that this title is thoroughly hackneyed in many different genres.  It has been used for travel or exploration books about remote or cold and inhospitable places by another bunch of famous names like Ranulph Fiennes, Paul Theroux, Isaac Asimov. (A lot of similar icy waste scenes and huskies on the covers.)

Other “Ends” veer in the wacky prophet-of-doom direction, but there are also serious titles on history or religion, politics, sociology, art and design.  Science fiction and comic books ditto. Bug Man, Spider Man and Wonder Woman have all ventured to the ends of the earth. There is a book about soul music and a poetry collection and, believe it or not, yet another academic work is listed with the same title on Random House Australia website as due out this month (June 2013).

Several independent or self-published authors have used it, and far be it for me to criticize them as I fully understand how it can tax the brain to come up with something appropriate yet distinctive, but I would suggest all authors in whatever genre they write in to do their homework and check that what they decide to name their precious production hasn't been done to death already. Just look at what a memorable title did for that phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey. Of course it has now been parodied galore, but its originality means it's highly unlikely an artist, hairdresser or former KGB agent would copy it for their memoirs!

Here's a collection of just some To the Ends of the Earth and variations that I have came across, and there are countless more out there. (It looks as if I haven't got a life if I pursue this in any further depth!) 

Book publication details and links haven't been included. You'll just have to do your own research to reach whichever end of the earth interests you.

And if by any remote chance you got this far, I hate to tell you but there have been 43 movies or TV episodes with this title as well. And the Weinstein Bros.  have a new movie in development about an oil tycoon off to the ends of the earth!  Check out IMDB.

Copyright New Yorker Zachary Kanin

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