Updated: Jun 16, 2020
Finding the right book title can be tricky, especially with the added pressure of appealing to your reader's first assumptions. What I found when compiling this list is that many beautiful titles are taken from poetry, which is fitting as both poems and titles normally require short, eye-catching lines.
'These Lovers Fled Away' by Howard Spring. Taken from Keats' Romantic narrative poem 'Eve of St. Agnes'. Though the title is beautiful, the complete line is more so: "And they are gone: ay, ages long ago. These lovers fled away into the storm."
'The Unbearable Lightness of Being' by Milan Kundera, translated from Czechoslovakian by Micheal Heim. A possessive tale charting love through countries and political unrest. Also one of my favourite lines in literature: “Love is the longing for the half of ourselves we have lost.”
'Where Angels Fear to Tread' by E. M. Forster. The title comes from a line from 'An Essay on Criticism' by Alexander Pope, reading: "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". This allusion to several of his more foolish characters is perhaps less appealing.
'On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous' by Ocean Vuong. An excellent Epistolary novel written by the Vietnamese-American poet, where the protagonist writes letter to his illiterate mother. Another beautiful title is his book of poems 'The Night Sky With Exit Wounds'.
'The Left Hand of Darkness' by Ursula K. LeGuin. A voyeuristic tale of ambisexual humanoids, with the wonderful eponymous line: “Light is the left hand of darkness, and darkness the right hand of light. Two are one, life and death, lying together like lovers.”
'By the Light of My Father's Smile' by Alice Walker. All her books are beautifully named, especially 'Hard Times Require Furious Dancing'. An excellent quotes is “It is the need to be remembered that has caused most of the trouble in the world.”
'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' by Carson McCullers. The title is taken from a poem by William Sharp, under the pseudonym Fiona MacLeod, with the line 'Deep in the heart of Summer, sweet is life to me still, But my heart is a lonely hunter that hunts on a lonely hill'.
'The Beautiful and the Damned' by F. Scott Fitzgerald (also 'Tender is the Night'). The title epitomises much of the couple's life. Written beautifully and at least semi-autobiographically, this novel should really be read next to 'Save Me the Waltz', by his wife Zelda Fitzgerald.
'The Sound and the Fury' by William Faulkner. The title is taken from Shakespeare's 'Macbeth', when he learns of his wife's apparent suicide and regards it nihilistically: "Life is but a walking shadow... It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."