In a Word

At The Millions, Bill Morris takes a look at one word titles and when they work. As someone who stresses over titles, it’s interesting to see this collection of titles ranging from Hamlet to Swamplandia! to Salt. He also notes that “seven of the 32 books on the current New York Times hardcover fiction and non-fiction best-seller lists – a healthy 22 percent – have one word titles.” That’s a solid showing.

The focus in this list is on adult literature, so I was interested in single word titles for YA and children’s books. Looking at the Newbery and Printz lists, my first impression is that children’s books tend toward longer titles. In the last twelve years of Newbery winners and honors, only four have had single word titles (all honors, not winners).

Single words fair a little better for Printz titles–twelve total, with one winner and eleven honors. The inaugural year featured a one word title winner (Monster by Walter Dean Myers) and two one word title honors (Skellig by David Almond and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson).

One guess as to this divide: single word titles tend to suggest a higher level of intensity, which you’re more likely to find in a YA novel. (Monster and Speak aren’t exactly light books.) I think there’s a greater potential for whimsy in Newbery books, which probably works best with multi-word titles. (You can get a little more sass in there.) Obviously that’s not a hard and fast rule, but it was my first assumption. Any other guesses?

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