Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Vulgarity in book titles

I don’t generally have many chances to browse through a book store, as there aren’t any in the nearest town — other than a used book store, which I do value, but used book stores are not going to give you much of an impression about current trends. Like this one:

What the Heck Is Happening to Book Titles?!

For those of us who enjoy reading publications with book review sections and bestseller lists, the pleasure of discovering a few lyrical works comes to a screeching halt in the presence of titles filled with vulgarities. Similarly, a happily anticipated visit to a local bookstore quickly takes a wrong turn when centrally placed and unavoidable tables prominently showcase stacks of books shouting obscenities with angry venom.

The author does not produce specific examples. She delineates three categories: Books that use asterisk-ized Bada** and F*** in their titles, books that use Bitch or Slut in their titles, and prostitution-themed titles.

The article, which I spotted via the Passive Voice blog, would be quite a bit more persuasive with specific examples and — better — numbers. What proportion of books on a front table had titles of this kind, and what were those titles?

So, out of curiosity, I googled book titles that use “fuck,” thus locating this useful post from 2017: All Those F*cking Titles

Six titles are listed. I can add another: The F*ck It Diet: Eating Should Be Easy, which proposes the possibly unpersuasive idea that if you just let yourself eat all the junk food you want, you’ll start craving broccoli. That’s boiling it down a good bit, but yeah, I have my doubts that this would work for the majority of people. I mean, look at all the people who do in fact eat all the junk food they want: do they generally start craving a healthily abstemious diet after a while? Not so far as I can tell. I can’t imagine it myself, so I’m sticking to a modified keto diet … but I digress.

Anyway, sure, titles like this certainly would not have appeared fifty years ago and now it’s not too hard to find them. Edgy, or repellent? That’s in the eye of the beholder, but I can say flatly that my mother would never in a million years pick up any book with a title like this, except possibly to drop it in the trash. If you want to appeal to the broadest possible audience, this wouldn’t do it, so obviously that is not the intention. The idea must be to appeal to younger people who fancy themselves hip and edgy. Maybe it works, or maybe publishers are just copying each other when they pick titles and have no idea whether it works or not. (That would be my guess.)

Here’s a post by Nicole Lapin: Why I Used “Bitch” in the Title of My Book

As a woman, if you speak your mind, you’re called a bitch. If you don’t take shit from anyone, you’re called a bitch. If you aren’t afraid to go for what you want, you’re called a bitch. If you are empowered about your money and the life you want, you’re called a bitch. If you demand respect, you’re called a bitch.

And for men, if they do these things? Well…they’re just a “man.” THE man, in fact.

Sure, maybe, I guess? No one calls me a bitch, at least not as far as I know. Possibly I hang out with a different group of people, because I don’t hear the term used among my co-workers to refer to anyone, ever. Possibly the hip urban crowd would be different in this regard from a rural/small town community.

A lot of people I know say things like, “I’m showing her in Junior Puppy Bitch,” or “All three of my intact bitches came into season in one week! What a pain!”, so my attitude about the word may be a little different from Lapin’s.

Anyway … I don’t know that I’d pick out this particular trend in titles, such as it is, as the nadir of publishing. Trends that actually annoy me more: Using “Daughter of the ___” or “____’s Daughter” as the title; using “_________’s Wife” as the title; using “Girl” in the title when the character in question is a grown woman.

On the other hand, I’m generally against coarsening of public discourse, so I’ll join the author of the original post in turning both thumbs down at the use of vulgarity in book titles, though perhaps not as forcefully as she does.

How about you all? Would you be intrigued by a book with a title like that, say “Oh, edgy!” and pick it up? Or would you just roll your eyes and pass by?

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4 Comments Vulgarity in book titles

  1. Jo in OKC

    I’ll admit that I love both the title and content of the picture-book-for-adults _Go the F*** to Sleep_. It’s funny and it truly captures that beyond exhaustion feeling.

    Other than that, I can’t think of any book that I know with that word in the title.

  2. Kathryn McConaughy

    I wouldn’t pick up a book with vulgarity in the book title… If there’s something like that in the title it’s almost bound to be all through the story, which is not an appealing idea.

  3. Rachel

    Kathryn, I don’t mind a certain level of vulgarity in, say, military fiction or military SF. It’s hard to avoid in that kind of story, though Tanya Huff, for example, manages by changing “fuck” to “fuk.”

    But a book with “fuck” in the title isn’t like that. That book is specifically trying to be edgy and daring, but in a tiresomely unsubtle way that I am probably not going to find appealing.

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