Top Ten Tuesday: Unique book titles

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks for our ‘top ten unique book titles’. I have interpreted this as meaning titles that I find unusual, intriguing or interesting in some way – and this is the list I’ve come up with:

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1. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce novels were the first that came to mind when I saw this week’s topic. This one comes from Walter Raleigh’s To His Son (“The wood is that which makes the gallow tree; The weed is that which strings the hangman’s bag”), but others such as Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d and As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust are taken from Shakespeare and I am Half-Sick of Shadows is a line from Tennyson’s The Lady of Shalott.

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2. The Dead Duke, His Secret Wife and the Missing Corpse by Piu Marie Eatwell

This non-fiction book is exactly what the title suggests: the story of a dead duke, his secret wife – and possibly a missing corpse as well. I won’t go into any more detail here as I’ve already said it all in my review, but I found it as fascinating to read as you would expect from the title!

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3. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? by Agatha Christie

Many of Agatha Christie’s books have interesting titles, but I found this one particularly intriguing. “Why didn’t they ask Evans?” are the dying words spoken by a murder victim at the beginning of the novel, but – unless you are better at solving mysteries than I am – you won’t understand their meaning until you reach the end!

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4. Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson

This isn’t one of my favourite Atkinson novels but I did enjoy it. The title is intriguing – what is human croquet and how do you play it? – and I didn’t really understand its significance until the end of the book when the roles of some of the characters became clearer.

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5. Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken Hodge

This gothic suspense novel set in 19th century England features smuggling as a major element of the plot, so it is appropriate that the title comes from Rudyard Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song:
“If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street,
Them that ask no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by.”

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6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

This was Mary Ann Shaffer’s only novel, published posthumously in 2008. The unusual title refers to a fictional society formed during the German occupation of Guernsey during World War II.

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7. Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

This 1930s novel by George Orwell is the story of a man who leaves a well-paid job to concentrate on his poetry and escape what he thinks of as ‘worship of the Money God’. The aspidistra of the title refers to the popular house plant he sees as symbolic of the middle-class lifestyle he has rejected.

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8. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! is the name of a fictional theme park in the Everglades. With its alligator-themed attractions, it does sound unusual – and so is the novel itself!

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9. Baba Yaga Laid an Egg by Dubravka Ugresic

This is an imaginative retelling of the Baba Yaga story, relating aspects of the Slavic myth to the lives of modern women. It’s another strange title, but the reference to eggs will have more significance once you’ve read the book.

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10. Madam, Will You Talk? by Mary Stewart

Mary Stewart is another author who sometimes drew on songs, poems and plays for her titles (This Rough Magic and Nine Coaches Waiting are other examples). Madam, Will You Talk? is taken from a folk song possibly called The Keys of Heaven which contains the line “Madam, will you walk and talk with me?”

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Have you read any of these books? Which other books with interesting titles can you think of?

25 thoughts on “Top Ten Tuesday: Unique book titles

  1. jessicabookworm says:

    Sadly I haven’t read any of these books, but they all have great titles 😀 As soon as I saw this topic I thought of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, but having not read it, it didn’t seem right to include it on my list!

  2. FictionFan says:

    Great choices! The Flavia de Luce novels always seem to have wonderful titles – I love Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. Sadly the books themselves have never appealed to me. And I’ve always loved Keep the Aspidistra Flying – again I prefer the title to the book! Watch the Wall, My Darling sounds like fun… 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d is a great title, but I didn’t think it was fair to put that one on my list as I haven’t read it yet. I love the Flavia books but I can see why they wouldn’t appeal to everyone! I agree with you on Keep the Aspidistra Flying being a better title than book, though. 🙂

  3. Calmgrove says:

    To my shame I’ve read none of these titles though a couple of authors (eg Kate Atkinson) are not unfamiliar to me. But they do intrigue enough for me to keep an eye out for them!

  4. Helen C says:

    For me the king of the quirky title is Christopher Brookmyre, writer of what is often called “Tartan Noir”. His first novel was “Quite Ugly One Morning” 9taken from a song by Warren Zevon), and later titles include “One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night”, “Boiling A Frog”, “A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away”, “All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye”, “A Tale Etched In Blood And Hard Black Pencil” and “Attack Of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks”.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read anything by Christopher Brookmyre, but now I’m intrigued. It would be hard to come up with a more unusual set of titles than those. 🙂

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