Magazine June 22, 2020, Issue

Why Humans Self-Destruct

(Candice Estep/Getty Images)
The Index of Self-Destructive Acts, by Christopher Beha (Tin House, 528 pp., $27.95)

Take a look at the novels on your shelves, with particular attention to their titles. Are some titles clearly better than others? (If so, why?) Do they sort into various “genres”? Can titles of books from the 1960s, say, be distinguished in the aggregate from titles of books published in the last ten years, topical allusions aside? And why has so little attention been paid to the art, the business, the psychology of titling? We do have, thankfully, Gary Dexter’s Why Not Catch-21? (very funny, with an emphasis on how the sausage is made). But there is so much more

This article appears as “Lost Illusions” in the June 22, 2020, print edition of National Review.

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