One of the quirks of copyright law is that book titles cannot be copyrighted, with an exception if you write a series like Harry Potter and the Copyrighted Sequels. So every cool or amusing title you ever came across while browsing through the bookstore is up for grabs and subject to re-use, and — unlike top domain name owners — being the proud owner of a book title means that you have actually written a book (and not just reserved www.greatwriter.com so that you can flip it for a quick buck later). That being the case, in my altruistic desire to see more people write (good) books, allow me to offer you some of the gems I have stumbled across in my not-too-short lifetime — with the caveat that these are titles you probably don’t actually want to use again.
(1) I Killed Hemingway, in which Pappy Markham writes a tell-all about how Hem stole all his great ideas and thus had to pay the ultimate price. Actually quite good.
(2) The Roaches Have No King, a fantastic novel about a love affair between Ira Fishblatt and his various women, including the overweight, matronly Ruth Grubstein. Told from the perspective of the cockroaches living in his apartment, including one named Rosa Luxemburg.
(3) God Hates Us All. This is of, course, the title of the fictional bestseller written by Hank Moody (cf. David Duchovny) in Californication, which is arguably the best Showtime series ever. (Yes, I said “ever’). When I heard/saw/found out about the name of the book during the first season, I literally wept with despair that the title had been stolen from the available lexicon, even fictionally. And then they went and actually ghostwrote it, and it lost a bit of pizazz for me. Because the tie-in book is just not that good. Fluff, really.
(4) Print the Legend. Another awesome (and newly released) book about the imagined death of Hemingway, by Craig McDonald, who I’d never heard of before I found this gem at my erstwhile local bookstore, Rakestraw Books. I admit this is not the most awesome title in the history of novels, but the cover is really cool, so it gets the “value added” award. And it was really good. Even if you don’t like Hemingway (and think Martha should have blown his head off years before) it was really good.
(5) One Hundred Years of Solitude. Fantastic book. Fantastic title. Better in Spanish in both respects, really, as Cien años de soledad rolls off the tongue almost effortlessly and if you can read castellano then you know how good Márquez really is.
(6) Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. A classic, but frankly not one of my favorites, as his writing is muddled and very Zen-like. I don’t enjoy having to intuit what writers mean — I prefer to follow along mindlessly absorbing limpid prose until 3:00 a.m., when I only reluctantly put the book down so I won’t ruin it by speed-reading the last 50 pages. Pirsig’s next book, Lila, which was published after a 17 year hiatus, is actually a much better read, and truly affecting. Best line in the book: “Take care of the goodness inside you.”
(7) Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Jitterbug Perfume, and Still Life With Woodpecker. The magnificent trio of Tom Robbins’ novels from my decadent youth. Whose titles don’t merit copyright protection because they are not part of a series in any sense of the word recognized by the intelligentsia at the Copyright Office.
(8) A Confederacy of Dunces. A posthumous masterpiece about big, fat Ignatius Reilly and his love of the round file, among other things. Toole was a Swift scholar, and his protagonist has been compared to Pantagruel, but readers who aren’t charmed or amused by a fat, flatulent, gluttonous, loud, lying, hypocritical, self-deceiving, self-centered blowhard who masturbates to memories of a dog and pretends to profundity are not likely to enjoy this one.
(9) Ham on Rye. Okay, I admit it. I’m cheating here, but only because this was one of my all time favorites when I was in my 20s, and I ended up doing some legal work for Bukowski’s old printing house (Black Sparrow Press). The book design, with the soft cardboard covers and bold graphics, was a real winner at the time, though sadly the jacket does not stand the test of time. My copy is now sun faded and beat, but I still love it like a toddler loves his teddy. Bukowski’s infinitely better-titled book is The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills, which suffers from being poetry, but being Bukowski is eminently readable, and includes a few cowboy poems even a city slicker could love. And if you are prejudiced against Bukowski because you had that bad Mickey Rourke movie inflicted on you at some point in your life, pick up a copy of Pulp and read it when you’re decompressing from the mogul runs this winter. Who knew Bukowski could do Philip Marlowe?
(10) Last, but not least, Trouble Is My Business or, alternatively, The Simple Art of Murder, by the king of noir, Raymond Chandler. Nobody does it better, and his whodunits all have titles to kill for.
(11) And finally, to fulfill my obligation to prove that lawyers are not mathematicians, number 11 in this top 10 has to go to my uncle John Paxton’s screenplay for the 1944 thriller Murder, My Sweet, which is still delightful. Kids these days are missing out on the whole black and white thing.
(12) Last one, I swear. That other Raymond, Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. Va bene?
And that’s it, I’m Audi 5000 (as Evan Dando used to say). And no, you can’t copyright that either.
I am a commercial litigator and intellectual property lawyer in Orange County. Although my practice encompasses a wide variety of business disputes, I have a particular fondness for, and am prone to wax philosophical on, the subjects of copyright and trademark infringement in music, literature, art, and film.