Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hunting Book Titles Like Easter Eggs

I often find myself playing a little side-game while reading a novel with a less-than-obvious title: can I spot the exact reference, usually buried deep inside the novel, where the title's origin and meaning will be revealed?

I was starting to give up with Pat Conroy's 628-page Beach Music when it finally happened on page 475 in a scene in which Lucy is releasing a bunch of endangered loggerhead turtles so that they can make their run to the water:
"These are South Carolina turtles like my boys here," Lucy said, smiling at us. "I think they listen to the waves. I think they just love beach music."
Conroy did use the term a few other times in the book, such as on page 620 when quoting a "suicide letter" written by Shyla to her husband, Jack:
"I'll listen for your knock and I'll open the door and I'll drag you up to that room where we danced to beach music and kissed while lying on the carpet and I dared you to fall in love with me."
These references, however, pertain to the songs that Jack and his friends listened to on their transistor radios when partying on the beach together, or to the music played at Southern dance clubs in those days (sixties and early seventies).  I think that the book's title is more fitting when considered in the context of the page 475 reference and have to believe that's what Conroy had in mind.

I always get a little kick out of noticing the title references - but I usually forget to mark the page so that I can come back to it.  I can give one more recent example, though, this time from James Lee Burke's Glass Rainbow (page 200):
"We're all dust. At a moment like this, you get to look through a glass rainbow and everything becomes magical, but when all is said and done, we're just dust. Like the people in those paintings. We don't even know where their graves are."
Maybe you play the same game?


  1. Great post!
    I don't think I actively look for the book title. I probably will now, though :D
    I think I'm the reader who analyzes the title after I've read the book to see how it "fits".

  2. It can be fun, Kathy...and can become an addicting reading habit. In the future, when there are more e-books in everyone's library it will be too easy to cheat by doing a search...there goes the fun and challenge. I hope I can resist.

  3. I remember feeling so pleased when I found the "title drop" in Gone With The Wind while Scarlett is on her way home after fleeing Atlanta.

  4. "Title drop" - so that's the term for this kind of thing? Thanks, Susan.

  5. very nice term "title drop." Appropos.

    I am fond of Wally Lamb's title system: always the name of a song, always in the last line of the novel.

  6. Sean, that's cool to know about Wally Lamb. I hadn't realized that yet - not having read all that many books by the guy. Thanks for that.