Fun with Titles

I’m certainly not the first to notice these rather similar titles – both of which appear on this year’s Folio Prize and Women’s Prize longlists. I preferred Diana Evans’s Ordinary People (), which I just finished earlier this week, to Sally Rooney’s Normal People (). The two novels look at fairly average situations – two Black couples with children in South London and the Surrey suburbs; a pair of university students in Ireland – and probe the emotional intricacies.

Michelle Obama’s Becoming is now set to become the bestselling memoir of all time. I enjoyed it as much as any memoir-loving fan of the Obamas would (), but after I found out that it was ghostwritten I couldn’t get that little fact out of my mind. By contrast, Anuradha Bhagwati’s Unbecoming is the memoir of a bisexual U.S. Marine captain and tells of the racism and sexism she experienced. It came out last week and has only six ratings on Goodreads, so it’s as under-the-radar as Becoming is overexposed.

Just one letter separates the titles of these two books. I’ve been slowly making my way through All the Lives We Ever Lived, Katharine Smyth’s elegant bibliomemoir about her father’s death and the comfort she found in rereading To the Lighthouse. I don’t know much about All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuradha Roy, just that it’s set in 1930s India and Bali and has been longlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction. Her previous novel, Sleeping on Jupiter (2015), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Which of the books from these pairs would tempt you?

12 responses

  1. Love this! I keep on telling others I’ve read Normal People. I haven’t, I’ve read Ordinary People…

    Another one: I’m just about to start Freshwater (Emezi) and Saltwater (Andrews).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From Cathy’s recent post on Irish cinema I learned that there’s a film out called Normal People that’s not based on Rooney’s novel, AND a film in production that IS. That’ll be confusing!

      I didn’t think I’d heard of Saltwater, but then noticed it’s on my TBR. (Then again, I have over 300 2019 releases on there!)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Must be difficult to find a title that hasn’t been used before.
    I recall a spate of titles recently including such and such’s daughter (The Clockmaker’s Daughter, The Bonesetter’s Daughter. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter etc etc). Wish I knew why they always irritated me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very true. There are, of course, lots of identical titles out there, but these particular ones struck me because they’re very similar but not exactly the same.

      Along with the daughter books, there’s always So-and-So’s Wife — I tend to love famous wives books because you feel you’re finding out the truth behind a relationship where the husband was always the more prominent one. But I guess there’s something a bit annoying about defining a female character by her relationship to a man.


  3. Relatedly, I have now had two customers in the space of a week tell me how much they loved Michelle Obama’s memoir, Beloved [sic]. Have had a hard time not shouting “THERE IS MORE THAN ONE BOOK BY A BLACK WOMAN” at them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my gosh! That’s funny as well as awful.


  4. Bledwina Blighty | Reply

    What a fun post. I guess the same titles get used over and over again – I think there was a film Ordinary People with Robert Redford years ago too. I had no idea Michelle Obama’s book was ghostwritten! I have All The Lives We Ever Lived lined up on the shelf to read. I personally am sick of all the very similar domestic thriller titles – Girl on the Train, Girl Next Door, Girl Before Me, When I met You, When You Meet Me, After You Left …..sort of thing…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good point — I try to avoid all those ‘girl’ titles!


  5. I confess that I’m currently listening to Michele Obama read Becoming (sorry, Meredith). I’m also VERY attracted by the gorgeous cover on All the Lives We Never Lived.

    Very clever – this almost-matching.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this!
    I think I’d rather read about “Ordinary” people than “Normal” people, but I couldn’t tell you why. And I’d probably be more likely to pick up a book about the lives we’ve “Never” lived than the ones we have.
    As for Becoming, it is SO popular – I wonder how long it will be before I see it actually sitting on a shelf. And it makes me think I should be reading it!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sometimes the more one sees a book, the less one wants to read it. Is that true for you?


      1. Sometimes. But sometimes I get curious to know why it’s so popular!

        Liked by 1 person

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