Last night, I just stayed up until 4am reading almost all of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – a fun smart well-paced Swedish detective novel by Stieg Larsson. (I confess that I am sort of a Swedish detective novel junkie, being a huge fan of the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – looks the same, but it’s a different Ö than Mesut Özil!)
In Swedish, the title for Dragon Tattoo is Män som hatar kvinnor which translates literally to “Men Who Hate Women” which is an excellent title that actually offers insight on the book. I think that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is an unnecessarily titillating title to cast on a fierce kick-ass book… why is Lisbeth Salander reduced to a girl?? She’s a 24-year old sexually-active smarter-than-I-am strong woman. I think if she really existed she might track down the publishing executive responsible, and kick that man in the groin.
This brings to mind a couple of great poetic Primo Levi book titles that were mangled as they crossed the Atlantic:
- If This is a Man published as Survival in Auschwitz
- The Truce published as The Reawakening
It all makes me irritated with the obviousness of USA publishing houses. Perhaps we think that our readers won’t delve into books unless they have sexy titles… Should I be happy that, perhaps, more people are reading Larsson, because the title is catchier?
It’s not just works in translation. I suspect that Barbara Kingsolver has encountered a similar issue. In The Lacuna, Kingsolver’s fictional narrator is author Harrison Shepherd. His novels are retitled as follows:
- Ten Leagues from Where We Sleep published as Vassals of Majesty
- Where the Eagle Tears the Snake published as Pilgrims of Chapultepec
- The Name of This Place proposed as The Mighty Fallen or Ashes of Empire then published as The Unforetold
It makes me wonder what great titles were out there before they were scrapped. What working title did Kingsolver have in mind for Prodigal Summer? or Animal Dreams?
Then I think about my book… not 1% as literary as any of the works mentioned above… published as Down by the Los Angeles River: Friends of the Los Angeles River’s Official Guide (Wilderness Press 2005) and I remember how I was thinking of a much longer title – if I recall correctly the subtitle would have been something along the lines of Friends of the Los Angeles River’s Official Guide to Walking and Bicycling the Los Angeles River. I think of how much the editing process, painful as it was, definitely improved my work (thanks Eva Dienel!) and appropriately shortened my wordy title. So, for us lesser mortals, there’s definitely a editor’s role that potentially includes revising the title.
Well… time to finish Dragon Tattoo and move on to the second book in the trilogy: The Girl Woman Who Played with Fire.