Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Worst Title I've Seen Yet

In the last post I mentioned a story by Larry Brown called Kubuku Rides (This Is It). Now, I happen to love this story and I think it was more than good enough to win the prizes it has won (inclusion in the Best American Short Stories series, etc.). But oh, that title. I hate it. 

This Is It would have been a fine title, I think, because that's a line of dialogue a character says when he reaches a critical breaking point that changes the story's direction. But the first part? Kubuku Rides? My argument against it is

1. There is no character, place, or object anywhere in the story named Kubuku. In fact, other than things connected to Brown's story, the only link Google could find for "Kubuku" is a hotel in Bali, Indonesia. That hotel has no relevance to anything in the story, and it doesn't work as any kind of metaphor or other comparison to any story element. I'm not even convinced the hotel existed when Brown first sold his story.

2. Nobody "rides" anywhere in the story. One character drives a car in one scene, but that's not riding.

Yet Kubuku Rides, by itself, was Brown's original title for the story. According to his own notes in the Best American edition where his story can be found, Brown worried that no one might understand that title so he added a parenthetical (This Is It).

Calling the story Wei-Lo Chants (This Is It) or Pocahontas Alphabetizes (This Is It) would have helped just as much because those titles don't connect to anything in the story either.

What intrigues me is, Brown says the title is supposed to explain the story's narration. As I mentioned in my last post, he wrote that story in a specific dialect, and the narration is unlike that of any other story of his I've ever read or have heard about. Apparently the completely different style of this story bothered Brown. He asked himself who was narrating the story. His answer was that some character named Kubuku must be narrating it. The narrative flow is both strong and smooth, so he figured the narration was Kubuku's way of "riding" along with the story. The "This Is It" part was supposed to explain that the story was the result of Kubuku's "riding."

I don't believe that five clones of Sherlock Holmes, working together at the peak of their intellectual powers, would figure that out.

Brown seems wedded to this title and its explanatory purpose. When an "indie" movie was made from his story based on his own screenplay adaptation, the title of the movie was the same as the short story's. Which seems ridiculous, because if the "Kubuku" business was supposed to explain the story's narrative style, how could it possibly relate to a movie? Is Kubuku now the director? No, that was Terry Kinney. What is there in the movie to explain that's equivalent to narrative dialect? I'd argue, nothing. Besides, movies based on other sources frequently change the title from that of the source. Why not title the movie This Is It? (It came out before the Michael Jackson documentary used that name, so I don't think anyone would have complained.)

The point of this rant is, some rules were NOT meant to be broken. I say, "Give your story a title that clearly relates to some aspect of that story" is one of those rules.


  1. Apparently the title is a memorable one...

  2. I can't agree that the title is the worst I've ever seen. In fact, I think it's quite brilliant. If I came across that title in a table of contents, my eyes would be drawn to it, and it would snag my attention for being so different. Furthermore, the title has caused the story to gain attention it otherwise would have never received. For example, if it weren't for this blog, I'd've never heard of it. Now I'm intrigued. Perhaps I'll look it up myself to see what the fuss is about. Achievement unlocked.

  3. @Donald, @Doughbury: I think your comments are interesting, and I'll respond to them in the next blog post. You make a good point about how a title can hook a reader.

    I'm still not entirely sold, though...