Monday, April 21, 2008


by Stefan Merrill Block

A sad confession:

It took me nearly as long to come up with a title for my book as it took me to write the book itself. Each week, for months, I tried to convince myself of the rightness of another failure. A few examples:

Common Origin
To Be Remembered
Finding Isidora
Welcome To Isidora
Family of Memory
Beyond All Reason
Common Descent

Failing to come up with a perfect (or perhaps passable) title, I tried to convince myself of my fundamental mastery of the philosophy of title-writing, smugly theorizing the following in a missive to a patient friend:

"The relationship of the title to the book should be like a fractal. If you scrutinize it closely enough, the title should contain all the complexity, feelings, thematic concerns, and narrative scope of the whole text. But a title should also add something to the book, not only describing its contents, but commenting upon them, making the reader reconsider the story from an unexpected angle. And, of course, the title is also the book's presentation of itself to a distracted and dubious public. The title should also be cool."

True enough, maybe, but this theory--like most theory about art making, I suspect--got me nowhere. The months still unfurled, the mess of my manuscript was being turned into bound galleys before my eyes, and I started to get desperate, convincing myself of another ridiculous title nearly every day:

Atlas of Oblivion
The Memory Thief
The Spotless City Rises
Pilgrims of Oblivion
Children of Chance and Memory
Enter This Forgotten House
Atlas of Forgotten Worlds
The Complete History of Isidora
The Dream is Endless Now

Finally, after weeks of this, my agent asked me to meet him for lunch. The food was delicious; our conversation had little to do with work. Just after the bill came, he ripped away a scrap of it, wrote something on it, and slipped it to me:

The Story of Forgetting

I was nonplussed, but I read the four words a hundred times on the train ride home. I didn

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