When Books Don’t Live Up to Their Names
As debates swirl around the TV adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird prequel, it’s easy to forget the strangeness of those familiar titles. But misleading, mysterious and downright secretive titles are nothing new.
Sometimes, an author is overtaken by time. When John Williams’s Stoner became a cult classic in 2013, many readers thought they were picking up something like William Burroughs’s Junkie. But Williams’s protagonist, William Stoner, is completely drug-free and living out a low-key life on a university campus in the US Midwest. The use of “stoner” to refer to a marijuana user seems to have developed in the 1970s; Williams published his book in 1965.