Desperately Seeking a Title

Writing a 300 page manuscript is the easy part; finding an arresting title, not so.

My writer friend, Gabrielle, and I have been going back and forth over titles for books we are both working on. My working title is Frog Legs in Heaven, but she argues that it sounds like a French cook book, not a memoir about growing up in a Christian cult and converting to Judaism. I counter that I'm going with a more subtle, evocative approach. She is not fooled. She knows I just don't have anything better.

Gabrielle's memoir is thus far entitled Rush: the Art of my Life. But she's grappling with whether Rush is concrete enough. Back and forth, over phone calls and e-mails, we've been discussing it.

Gabrielle's e-mail to me:

I've been playing with titles/subtitles. I want something that is concrete and visual. Not abstract. Rush is too abstract and people don't know what it means. Want the title to reflect the central dilemma of the book. i.e. My misadventures in attempting to insert myself, or be included, in my father's picture. That's why I'm rushing. (So I want the title to have me, my father and art in it. And something about chasing that down or putting myself back in the picture.) I'm leaning away from Art Tart or Art Whore for various reasons, one of which is that I write seriously about art for art magazines . . .

She follows this with two pages of potential titles, which include various words like "frame" "boundaries", "part of the picture" and "expressionistic life."

My e-mail to Gabrielle:

I like three of them so far: Unframed, Framing Myself, and Finding my Way Back into the Picture...Unless I come up with something really compelling, I'm gonna keep "Frog Legs in Heaven" as a working title. These are some of the other possibilities:

Mascara Raptured me Away
Goldie Lox Wears Mascara: A Journey from Christian Cult to Rapture in the Jewish World
Mascara, the Mikvah and Me (same subtitle)

In the following days, I mentally run titles through my head. Picking out grapefruit at the fruit stand on Columbus Avenue, I decide I really want something with mascara in the title, since it's my church's fatwa against mascara that pushed me into the open arms of the mikveh, the Jewish ritual bath. Waiting in line at the coffee shop, I reconsider Goldie Lox - too cute, right?

Then, at my friend, Amy's, son's bar mitzvah, listening to him chant from Bamidbar, which in English is the book of Numbers, I wonder why I can't title my book like they used to in antiquity: they took a few words from the opening sentence of the book, and made that the title, without thought of marketing or audience or theme or genre. Numbers opens with, "And God said to Moses in the desert." Bamidbar translates from the Hebrew as "in the desert," while the English title, Numbers, which is translated from the Greek, arithmoi, numbers, encompasses the theme of the book, the numbering of the people in the desert.

1. Genesis, (Greek, "birth" or "origin"); Bereshith (בראשית), Hebrew for "In the Beginning"
2. Exodus, (from Greek, "departure"); Shemot (שמות) Hebrew for "Names"
3. Leviticus, (Greek, relating to the Levites); Vayikra (ויקרא) Hebrew for "And He spoke"
4. Numbers, (Greek, arithmoi, refers to numbering the people); Bamidbar (במדבר) Hebrew for "In the Desert"
5. Deuteronomy, (Greek, "second law"); Devarim (דברים), Hebrew for "Words" or "Things"

The opening of my book changes as often as the title, but the first sentence thus far is either "I'm sitting in a coffee shop with my friend, Lili,..." or, conversely, "During your menstrual period...." I don't know that either is particularly compelling as a title. But "In a coffee shop" surely summarizes the themes in my life: sitting, as opposed to running or skiing or exerting myself in any manner that might cause me to work up a sweat and have to shower; drinking coffee, my drug of choice; and with a friend implies social interaction. All three - the sitting, coffee, and friends - are certainly themes in my memoir.

My other potential first line, however, "During your menstrual period..." alludes to Jewish law connected to the mikveh, the ritual bath, and likewise, these somewhat arcane (to many) laws are of interest to me, and they are things I talk about over coffee with friends. But would anyone pick up a book called During Your Menstrual Period?

Gabrielle's memoir begins with, "We have begun our descent..." Were this the Bible, the title might be Our Descent. Her early life does descend in many respects, but then it ascends again, so Our Descent seems not only a little depressing but also, isn't representative of the book as a whole. I suggest she move one of her later sections to the beginning, and start with the line, "White food is good for depression." Now, that's a cool title.

I'm still floundering. My friend Rob suggests Angela's Lashes as a title. "Lashes" might bring to a reader's mind mascara, which is right up there with coffee in my addictions. So, should I return to Mascara, the Mikveh and Me?

Gabrielle e-mails me a website,, which is a list of the 100 best book titles. I peruse it, hoping inspiration will strike: Something Wicked This Way Comes; Women are From Venus, Men are from Hell...; Still Life with a Psychotic Squirrel; The Earth, My Butt and Other Big Round Things; Don't Pee on my Leg and Tell Me It's Raining; The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven; Don't Bend Over in the Garden, Granny, You Know Them Taters Got Eyes.

Oh, my God! My nickname is Tater...

Tater's Got Eyes?

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