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To Brie or Not to Brie... What's the Question?


Recently I had occasion to spend a lot of time in the Mystery section on the second floor at the Mid-Manhattan Library. After looking at many, many titles there, I noticed a plethora of puns. Of course, writers often 'borrow' a few words from another source for a title. For example, John Steinbeck used a few words from the lyrics of Julia Ward Howe’s “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which she in turn borrowed from the Book of Revelation in the Bible, for his novel The Grapes of Wrath. That is not quite the same thing as creating a title based on another author’s work that includes an intentional pun. One wonders about the reaction of the original authors to the following  punned titles: To Brie or Not to Brie by Avery Aames, The Cakes of Wrath by Jacklyn Brady, and A Sheetcake Named Desire by Jacklyn Brady.

I soon discovered that puns in titles were not limited to mysteries involving food. Indeed, they branched out to include various interests and hobbies (usually involving homophones): antiques (Antiques Bizarre by Barbara Allan), gardening (Dead Head by Rosemary Harris), farming (Fruit of All Evil by Paige Shelton), knitting (Fleece Navidad by Maggie Sefton), embroidery (Thread on Arrival by Amanda Lee), crafts (Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun by Lois Winston), and even books (Read and Buried by Erika Chase and A Tale of Two Biddies by Kylie Logan).

There are also several mystery series dedicated to various jobs: shopping mall cop (Malled to Death by Laura Disilverio), veterinarian (Right from the Gecko by Cynthia Baxter), decorative blacksmith (The Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews), and, yes, librarians (File M for Murder by Miranda James). Elaine Viets writes a Dead-End Job mystery series with recent titles like Board Stiff (set in a beachfront paddleboard shop in Florida) and Final Sail (working as an undercover stewardess on a luxury yacht).

Having met quite a few mystery writers over the years, thanks to the Mystery Writers of America-New York Chapter (they provide a monthly presentation at MML which is really great, join us when you can), I was somewhat perplexed. I had not noticed that a majority of those mystery writers were avid punsters. Possibly a few (I won’t name names), but not that many. Yet how does one account for the aforementioned titles?

I began to wonder if an author writes the book and then chooses the title, or if he/she already has the title in mind and then creates a story around it. How difficult would that be? I call your attention to a few examples: Chili Con Carnage by Kylie Logan (about a murder on the chili cook-off circuit), The Fonduing Fathers by Julie Hyzy (not a typo, it’s part of a series about the White House chef), Tote Bags and Toe Tags by Dorothy Howell (about the unfortunate on-the-job misadventures of a handbag fashionista).

Then I began to fantasize that there really is only one person responsible for these titles, one person whose job is to sit around creating punny titles. (That degree in English had to be suitable for something other than framing, who knew?) But there are so many titles. Maybe there is one punny title person working for each publisher. (Would that job title be Punny Title Editor?) Maybe these mysterious beings are just really bad spellers or inordinately prone to committing malapropisms. Then again perhaps they are simply addicted to playing literary pun games on Twitter; that could certainly account for it. 

All this mystery is so exhausting. Right now I could use a cup of Agony of the Leaves (a tea shop mystery by Laura Childs) or maybe even Roast Mortem (a coffee shop mystery by Cleo Coyle). Nothing stronger because it would take more than one glass of Corked by Cabernet (a Napa Valley vineyard mystery by Michele Scott). So long for now, Tulle Death Do Us Part (a vintage clothing store mystery by Annette Blair). 

Let me know if you have a favorite punny title, mystery or not. Remember:  The Pun Also Rises (by John Pollack with apologies to Ernest Hemingway).



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Punny Titles

Such a punny post,Lois. Thanks for including one of my books. As to the question of whether writers come up with the title first or the story first, for me it works both ways. Since I know my publishers like punny titles, I've occasionally generated a whole list of titles at the start of a series: Die Buying, All Sales Fatal, etc., for the Mall Cop series. Sometimes, it's the publisher's folks who come up with the punny title, though, not the author. The publisher has the right to title the book, in most cases, so their choice wins.

Thanks for the info!

Now I have the answer to the title mystery (which comes first - the title or the story) and right from the artist's mouth! It does make sense to come up with titles in a series ahead of time. I know some writers solicit titles from their readers as part of their process, Janet Evanovich comes to mind. But, wow, creating the plot to match the title, sounds tough to me. Thanks for reading my blog.

Punny titles

I come up with the title first and build a story around it. I've been known, though, to change the title halfway through writing the book when a better title comes along. So far, my publisher has used only titles I've suggested. I've written DIRE THREADS, THREADED TO KILL, and THREAD AND BURIED. I have a new book coming out in June, and it has my favorite title so far--NIGHT OF THE LIVING THREAD. My friend Avery Aames came up with that title. Yes, that's the same Avery Aames who titled one of her books TO BRIE OR NOT TO BRIE...

Love that title!

I LOVE Night of the Living Thread! Now I have to read it. Looking forward to it. Thanks for commenting.

Punny Titles

Which comes first, the title or the story? As you've heard from other authors, that all depends. For my League of Literary Ladies mysteries, I usually come up with the titles first depending on which classic books I'd like the Ladies to read. That's how I ended up with "Mayhem at the Orient Express" and "A Tale of Two Biddies." Next up is "The Legend of Sleepy Harlow." Hey, it's an October release! Sometimes, though, the title doesn't come until after the book is finished. Usually in the middle of the night when I can't sleep!

So that's how you do it!

I loved the title The Tale of Two Biddies. Dickens is probably spinning in his grave. (I'm currently rereading the original on my ebook, don't know what Dickens would make of that.) But it makes sense in your series for the upcoming plot to pick the book first and then pun it. Thanks for commenting!

Punny Titles

Hi, Lois, thanks for the laugh, and thanks for including a title from my Cheese Shop series as your lead line! What fun. As it turns out, I create all my own titles. [No punny title editor necessary.] I adore puns. I know they're the "lowest form of humor," but they take imagination. My parents always encouraged me to think this way. Sure, I was an English major (didn't frame the diploma), but I try not to take myself seriously. Humor & laughter are very important to me. FYI, I think up the title first and then base the story around it. In the Cheese Shop Mysteries, the theme is cheese. I need to know which one I'm going to focus on. DAYS OF WINE AND ROQUEFORT features pungent cheeses. For the Cookbook Nook mysteries (which I write under my real name, Daryl), I have titles that are not necessarily punny, but they do twist the meanings of book-style words. FINAL SENTENCE; INHERIT THE WORD, which is out right now; and the upcoming STIRRING THE PLOT, which features a Halloween theme. I know my readers enjoy the humor in the titles, too. Again, thanks for the mention! Daryl aka Avery

Great! English Majors Unite!

So far all the authors have admitted to creating their own titles, even before they write the books. Who knew? I imagined it might be harder to do it that way, but evidently not so per our illustrious and punny authors. (My English degree is also unframed but still cherished.) I must admit to laughing out loud as I was reading the various titles in our Mystery section. Then I had to shush myself because I'm the librarian. Oh well, thanks for commenting and for giving me the chance to blog about some good reads.

Chile con Carnage. Easily my

Chile con Carnage. Easily my favorite out of all the books you mentioned.

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