When Haruki Murakami came out of his study earlier this year and said to his wife: “I’m going to call my latest collection of short stories ‘Men Without Women’“, I wonder if she thought to say to him: “Hasn’t that title already been used darling?”
Because it has. Ninety years ago in fact, when none other than Ernest Hemingway named his latest offering of short stories Men Without Women. I’m sitting looking at both these books right now as I write this blog. Hemingway’s with its pugilistic cover and tribute by Joseph Wood Krutch (The Nation) – “painfully good”. And Murakami’s book, beautiful to behold, the hard cover version that I have bought (yes, I know!) strokable and with a satisfying heft.
I love Murakami’s writing, that deft thing he does where you are simultaneously drawn in and kept at arms length. And this book of seven stories about men and their complex relations with women is no exception. It is a long time since I have read Hemingway, but it is resolutely muscular writing. In his fourteen stories you are pulled right into the fray, be it in the boxing ring or in a touching dialogue on a railway siding.
There are no books in Christchurch City Libraries with the title Women Without Men. To be frank I was so taken aback that I checked several times. The nearest I got to it is a book by Virginia Nicholson Singled Out (How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War).
Something about all of this is niggling me. Why did Murakami give his book this name?
Two such brilliant writers. Two great works – 90 years apart. Both made up of short stories. One title. I fear that Murakami, in this one act, has doomed himself forever-more to endless queries about his choice of title at writers’ festival after writers’ festival in the up-and-coming year.
I almost feel sorry for him.
Your local Christchurch City Library is filled with popular titles everyone loves. The Jodi Picoults, Nora Roberts and Jamie Oliver cookbooks fill the library shelves. But how about the more obscure and, dare I say it, slightly odd books that live in our library?
A while ago I started collecting photocopied front covers of books with odd titles, or about unusual subjects, or books I just couldn’t imagine would have an audience, even a niche one. Many of my library colleagues started collecting for me too as the more obscure books passed through their hands. I now have an ever expanding pile of great covers.
How to Bombproof your Horse is my favourite so far. It’s actually about teaching confidence and obedience to your horse in tricky situations such as crowds. I also took a double take at 1080 Recipes. Is it just me or would most Kiwis see that as cooking with possum poison? There are so many quirky titles hiding on the Non-Fiction shelves in your local library, it’s well worth a browse. Have you got a favourite quirky title?
When I saw this title in a post on Ben McIntyre’s blog on Times Online I thought – it must be a joke… but hey it’s not and Christchurch City Libraries have seven copies!
Is this the longest title ever? – other classic examples welcome.
The pursuit of funny and titles that tickle continues …
The Guardian has just reported the shortlist has been announced for the year’s oddest book titles. Hooray for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. Candidates include the particularly charmingly titled If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs.
Others on the shortlist: Cheese Problems Solved, How to Write a How to Write Book and Are Women Human? And Other International Dialogues.
New in our libraries too are some other corkers:
- Ma, he sold me for a few cigarettes
Perhaps not one to laugh it as it’s subtitled “a heart-rending memoir”, but the title reminds me of the Monty Python skit when four Yorkshiremen are trying to outdo each other with how bad their lives were: “House? You were lucky to have a HOUSE! We used to live in one room, all hundred and twenty-six of us, no furniture. Half the floor was missing; we were all huddled together in one corner for fear of FALLING!” Continue reading