Can you judge a book by its cover…or its title?

We’ve all heard the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” While this is a great lesson when it comes to people (don’t judge someone’s insides by how they look on the outside) it actually doesn‘t apply so well to books. Cover design is someone’s whole job, and if they do it well, potential readers should be able to tell a lot about a book by its cover! A great cover is eye-catching in some way; it makes people want to pick up the book and learn more.

But what about a book’s title? There are perfectly good books with generic, forgettable titles; and there are excellent titles for mediocre books (fewer of the latter, though, I think). Below is a list of titles that have stood out to me over the years: some are laugh-out-loud funny, some are poetic, and some inspire instant curiosity. (I requested Wolfie the Bunny based on the title alone; I didn’t even need to read the review. How could a book called Wolfie the Bunny be anything but amazing? Likewise, those of a certain generation can’t help but laugh at Pluto Gets the Call. And with adult novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – well of course she’s not, you know that right away.)

Adult

  • A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley
  • How Did You Get This Number? by Sloane Crosley
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by Dave Eggers
  • How to Talk to A Widower by Jonathan Tropper
  • What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us: Stories by Laura van den Berg
  • Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson
  • Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • That’s Not A Feeling by Dan Josefson
  • Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit

Above: Cover images of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir, and Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Children’s

  • Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman & Zachariah Ohora
  • The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty
  • The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen
  • Pluto Gets the Call by Adam Rex & Laurie Keller
  • I Can See Just Fine by Eric Barclay

Above: Cover images of Wolfie the Bunny, Pluto Gets the Call, and The Rock From the Sky

What titles have made you laugh, made you curious, or otherwise compelled you to pick up a book?

Edited 1/8/2022: How could I have forgotten We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider? And Brita suggested some good ones in the comments as well, including A Tale for the Time Being and Nights When Nothing Happened.

3 thoughts on “Can you judge a book by its cover…or its title?

  1. Oh, wow – that’s a big question. Essay collections often have great titles, don’t they? I’m with you on Crosley and Solnit, and think, too, of Samantha Irby and Phoebe Robinson. Ruth Ozeki’s novels – especially A Tale for the Time Being, but also going back to The Year of Meats – are reliably well named. A few others, just from this year: The Souvenir Museum (McCracken), A House Is a Body (Swamy), Nights When Nothing Happened (Han), and let’s not forget our own You Never Forget Your First!

    • Yes, I’ve read everything on that list. I would definitely recommend A Tale for the Time Being – it’s probably my favorite Ozeki, though I still have a soft spot for My Year of Meats (also a good title!). I didn’t love the Han.

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