Home Columns Anantha Narayan How to Write a Title

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True lies. That’s what most autobiographies are about. They are nothing but verbose vehicles for revealing the reality about others and presenting your airbrushed, manicured self to an imagined world. Which is probably why no one cares to read them.
Fact: The last memoir to create a stir was Hitler’s Mein Kampf. And it flew off the shelves as everybody wanted a sneak peek into his devilish mind. When Winston Churchill wrote his My Early Life, it didn’t have as many takers.
This apparent paradox has led many to spice up their stories. Why else do you think celebs throw in a hush-hush affair or reveal their sexual orientation or narrate an untold incident of child abuse? It’s not because they wish to record a confession. The unvarnished reason is money, honey. Everyone wants to be a bestseller.
But what many forget is that the journey to delivering a successful book starts with a pithy title. A title that can sum up your life in less than six words. If you’re going to be an LK Advani, then you’ll end up with a bland one like My Country, My Life. Surely you can do better. I’d have gone for a bolder title like Grapes of Rath or My Chariots of Fire.
History is replete with some lovely memoir titles. Roger Moore, the super suave actor who played 007, called his tome My Word is My Bond. Spike Lee, the auteur renowned for exploring racism, chose Tall, Dark & Gruesome. Arnold Schwarzenegger picked Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. Star Trek stud Leonard Nimoy first said I am Not Spock to underline his versatility. But later in life when everyone forgot about him, he came back with another volume, I am Spock.
Singer, actress, comedian Bette Midler dabbled in word play with View from a Broad. If you didn’t get her ingenuity, just say it loud, and you’ll figure that it sounds like ‘View from Abroad’. Another comic, Vic Reeves (born Jim Moir), came up with the splendid Me Moir. Hard rocker Gene Simmons managed to cleverly embed his band name in the title. He opted for KISS & Makeup. Among the business heads, Virgin Group’s Richard Branson remained his true blue controversial self by labelling his work Losing My Virginity. Back home, the only half-decent name in recent times is A Shot at History from Olympian Abhinav Bindra. I wonder when our stars will breathe some life into their life stories.

-Anantha Narayan

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