This is a story about titles
Dad would say I’m, “chewing my cabbage twice.” But I’ve had enough folks question my intent, meaning, sanity and writing process that I’m going to back up a couple of weeks…..
I wrote a rather harmless (and fairly mundane) story about how all of baseball has gone to the “Designated Hitter” rule. To a baseball purist, it was a sad moment for the game….and I said so.
None of the perplexed readers openly objected to the content, the issue for them was the title. “What kind of heading for a baseball story is ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls?’” was the way the polite ones phrased it.
“You goofball,” polite was never Aunt Ruby Nell’s long suit, “baseball doesn’t have anything to do with the title of an Ernest Hemingway novel”
An older couple stopped me and asked if it was some kind of metaphor….or maybe, a hyperbole. “I hope you’re not equating your work with Hemingway” is the way one email put it.
Seeing as how I might have crossed the line with this particular title—I quickly placed the blame on my third-grade history class. Miss Belle was forever having us to read one of those Landmark books on some historical giant and write a two-page report on it.
Naturally, we had to stand up and read our essay. Pam Collins would clear her throat and say, “The title of my story is ‘George Washington’” and then she would launch into her first paragraph, “This is the story of George Washington. George Washington was born on February 22, 1732. When George Washington was a little boy…..”
Listen, I didn’t know my elbow from a hot rock in 1955, but I knew there were too many Georges in this story already. I also didn’t know words like redundant and superfluous at that tender age, but I was sure feeling them!
And then Kenny Butler rose and reported on David Crockett, David Crockett, David Crockett.
There has to be a better way! A more inventive way to introduce what you are about to say. You don’t need to reveal the whole thought in the title and then repeat it sixteen more times before you sit down. Of course, it didn’t really matter to me, if I could just graduate from the third grade, I was absolutely never going to write another essay, story, paper, thesis…..as long as I lived!
I certainly wasn’t ever going to read anything beyond the sports pages. Then titles like “Bad Day at Black Rock”, “To Kill a Mockingbird”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Gone with the Wind” caught my eye.
Hey, a good title can make you think…..or at least get you to read the first sentence or two.
The guy who really understood the “title” game was Will Rogers. He went on a two-month tour of Russia in 1926. For a bashful Oklahoma kid you can imagine his surprise when he saw all the local folks swimming completely in the nude! He immediately came home and wrote a book he entitled, “There’s Not a Bathing Suit in Russia, And Other Bare Facts.”
Will thought the whole idea of Communism was based on “propaganda and blood.” He wrote, “What they need in their government is more of a sense of humor, and less of a sense of revenge.” Oh, and about the swimmers, he said, “While I didn’t see all of the country, I got to see all of some Russians.”
Ernest Hemingway wasn’t so bad in the “title” business himself. “The Snows of Kilimanjaro”, “The Old Man and the Sea” and “A Moveable Feast” are perfect examples of interesting monikers.
But Hemingway was not the original author (sorry Ruby Nell) of the “For Whom the Bell Tolls” line. An English writer named John Donne beat him to it by some 300 years! Donne’s poem by that name, a 14-line sonnet that doesn’t rhyme at times or sound like anything Shakespeare penned, focused on the nature of death and its connection between all human beings.
The bells, in Donne’s thinking and poem, tolled to announce the funeral of a lately departed villager. It was the death march.
I borrowed (or stole if you prefer) the line from Donne to express my strong feeling that the universal DH rule was tolling the death march of baseball as I had grown up knowing it.
It made perfect sense to me. Plus, I couldn’t think of anything else. You’d be amazed at the number of titles in this writing business that are derived out of sheer desperation.
I meant no harm to Mr. Hemingway, Miss Belle, Pam Collins, John Donne or baseball in general…..