Saturday, March 7, 2009

Astonishing thoughts about Diana Joseph's "I'm Sorry You Feel That Way"

To: Title Elves
Re: Those astonishing, attention-grabbing titular* words

Whether you're the author, the agent, or the editor, I realize that snappy titles aren't easy to come up with. You strive for a word that'll grab readers' attention and make them want to yank your book off the shelf over all others, and you never really know if it worked or not because, did we read the book because of the title? The cover? Because our friend told us it was great despite the stupid title and ugly cover? You'll never know. We don't even know. But I'm here on behalf of readers, to let you in on a little secret.

The word Astonishing? It's run its course. We're over it. Please replace it with something snappier and unique such as....Snappy. Or Unique.

You see, we've read Barry Lyga's Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl, and M.T. Anderson's Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing. There was Christopher Grey's Leonardo's Shadow: Or, My Astonishing Life as Leonardo da Vinci's Servant. Let's not forget Clare Morrall's Astonishing Splashes of Color (which takes its title from a description of Neverland in Peter Pan) shortlisted for the Man Booker prize in 2004. And now we have Diana Joseph's newly released memoir I'm Sorry You Feel That Way: The Astonishing but True Story of a Daughter, Sister, Slut, Wife, Mother, and Friend to Man and Dog.

And here's where the title fails, dear Title Elf. (I'm not even going to touch the fact that Ms. Joseph wrote a chapter lamenting her son's use of the word slut and then, for shock value, you smacked it onto the cover of her book for everyone else's young sons to glimpse.). I enjoyed this memoir--in turns funny, touching, and disturbing--but I have to tell you honestly that I waited through the entire 206 pages and the astonishment never came.

Maybe the astonishing part was supposed to be the fact that Diana Joseph appears to define herself entirely in relation to men? Each of these fifteen stories revolves around a male in Ms. Joseph's life: her father, her brothers, her son, her lovers. Her boss. The neighbor she has breakfast with occasionally. Yes, even the dog is male.

Her mother makes a brief appearance or two, but no female--not even the author herself--not even the cat--merits her own chapter. I think that's a significant decision on the part of this talented creative writing professor, and yet it's an issue she chooses to scarcely touch. It's a little unnerving.

But astonishing? No. Unfortunately, even in the twenty-first century, that's not astonishing at all.


*Titular. Now there's a word I've never used before.


  1. I love this post. I haven't read the book yet, but I'd like to, even though it has the word astonishing in it.

  2. Oh, do read it! Just don't expect to be astonished. :-)

  3. Great review. Very succinctly put. :-)

  4. I haven't read any of those astonishing books. But yeah, I'm over the word for sure. Your review made me smile :)

  5. I'm astonished that I missed this post last week...

  6. what an astonishing post! ;-)

  7. I love this format, an open letter to the bestowers of titles!

    I have this book on my shelf and will confess that I've leafed thru it, but it hasn't yet made it to my nightstand. It will eventually, but I'll be prepared ...

  8. Heh heh. Titular.

    I really liked the title, actually. Too bad it wasn't better (the book, I mean).