400 Books With the Same Title Almost!
Plus! Rubber plant decapitation poll results! Weird trash roundup!
Welcome to Issue #38 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Last week’s issue included a poll asking readers to determine the fate of the rubber plant I gave up for adoption this past March on NextDoor. As you’ll recall, Ann, the grandmother who claimed the plant and lives around the corner, had revived it and was texting regular progress updates. Because it was looking extremely scrawny, she was debating whether to propagate it by lopping off and replanting its head.
I asked CAFÉ ANNE readers to decide. Here are the survey results:
A couple of observations. First, you guys are a savage and bloodthirsty lot.
Second, just 9% of those reading the issue voted in the poll. Why? Perhaps many shared the sentiments of reader “Inky” who left the comment, “The plant survey is too much responsibility!”
I texted the preliminary results to Ann on Friday:
Ann was busy getting ready for a two-week trip to Montauk with her kids and grandkids, but still took time to reply:
Decapitate, propogate, whatever! The head is coming off. I’ll keep you posted.
In other news, things started looking very grim last week for the abandoned BMW featured in ISSUE 36 that was serving as a graffiti-style message board for Brooklynites:
Yesterday, I got an email from Laurie Duncan, the mastermind behind the message project. Finally, more than six months after it first appeared at the corner of Henry and Atlantic, the car had been towed.
It disappeared this past weekend, sometime between 11 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. Sunday, Ms. Duncan reported, adding, “I will miss it, but I know it’s in a better place.”
Could summer get more exciting? I’m going to have an aneurism and a heart attack!
This week’s issue, meanwhile, features a little investigation into a mystery that’s nagged me for some time. Why are there so many book titles using some variation of the phrase, “The X’s Daughter”?
We’ve got “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” “The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter,” “The Polgymist’s Daughter”…more than 400 in all! Last week, I wrote to a handful of “daughter” novelists to ask them what gives. They had some interesting responses. Please enjoy!
Weird Trash #22
CAFÉ ANNE frequently features photos of Weird Trash Heaps submitted by readers—piles of garbage found on city sidewalks containing odd assortments that, for better or worse, tell a little story about whomever left the pile behind. But in recent months, readers have also sent photos of trash finds that, while not quite rising to the level of weird trash heaps, are for sure weird trash.
The always reliable Jack A. in Manhattan contributed two beauties recently, both spotted in the West Village:
Books in a toaster! Why not? As for the bear, we are still speculating whether it was dead or just on the nod.
Reader Lesley K. in Red Hook, Brooklyn, who earlier contributed a strange series of trash pics spotted on Van Brunt Street, also submitted two additional finds from her neighborhood:
“The weirdness continue,” she wrote.
Donuts are an ongoing CAFÉ ANNE theme, so I was very pleased when reader Ryan VB in San Francisco sent the following:
How is it these delectables are still hanging around? If I were on the scene, they’d be gone.
And my favorite, from Karen M. on the Upper West Side, is not even trash. It’s just a fantastic sidewalk sighting:
Please send your weird trash photo to email@example.com and I will include it in a future issue.
CAFÉ ANNE READER
The X’s Daughter: A Book Title Mystery!
In a misguided attempt to read everything written by the late English journalist, essayist and all-around buzz-kill George Orwell, I recently finished his 1935 novel, “A Clergyman’s Daughter.” After I recovered, I got to thinking—aren’t there an awful lot of books with similar titles?
I could think of Amy Tan’s “The Bonesetter’s Daughter,” which was a big deal back in 2001 (and made into an opera!), and Eudora Welty’s “The Optimist’s Daughter.” There was the “Hangman’s Daughter,” and more recently, the NYT #1 best seller “The Firekeeper’s Daughter.” Alexander Pushkin may have launched the whole trend way back in 1836 with “The Captain’s Daughter.”
A search on Goodreads revealed the situation is crazier than I thought. There are more than 400 “The X’s Daughter” novel titles. You could easily spend the next decade reading about the trials and tribulations of daughters.
The titles seem to fall within a few categories, the largest being occupational. A small sample: The General’s Daughter, The Apothecary’s Daughter, The Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter, The Captain’s Daughter, The Calligrapher’s Daughter, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Taxidermist’s Daughter, The Preacher’s Daughter, The Pilot’s Daughter, The Elephant Keeper’s Daughter, The Violin Maker’s Daughter, The Tea Planter’s Daughter, The Bishop’s Daughter, The Botanist’s Daughter, The Ice Cutter’s Daughter, The Bloodletter’s Daughter.
Note that these titles typically reference occupations that are odd or extinct. You don’t see “The Uber Driver’s Daughter” or the “Chief Marketing Officer’s Daughter.” I’m an accountant’s daughter, and probably no one wants to read about that.
The second major category includes references to the odd or supernatural: The Devil’s Daughter, The Sin Eater’s Daughter, The Vampire Hunter’s Daughter, The Iron Dragon’s Daughter, The Mermaid’s Daughter, The King of Elfland’s Daughter.
Animal daughters are a thing: The Lion’s Daughter, The Hummingbird’s Daughter, The Tiger’s Daughter.
And then there are what I think of as the “Bad Dad” titles: The Torturer’s Daughter, The Madman’s Daughter, The Polygamist’s Daughter, The Murderer’s Daughter, The Liar’s Daughter.
Does anyone care to read about sons? Apparently not. I did a similar search and came up with a handful, most notably Adam Johnson’s big-deal “The Orphan Master’s Son,” a novel so grim I could not finish it back in 2012. But there’s probably roughly one “son” title for every 100 daughters.
So interesting! There had to be a good explanation, and who would know better than the authors themselves? Last week I emailed a handful of them…
I’m working on a little piece about the hundreds of books that use the phrase “The X’s Daughter” for the title. Pushkin may have been first, but as you know it’s been a strong trend in publishing now for at least 20 years.
As the author of one of these titles, can you share any thoughts about why this is so, please? I’d love to include them in my newsletter.
…and four were kind enough to respond!
Below, their best efforts to explain their book’s titles, if not the thinking of the entire publishing industry. Please enjoy!
Lauren Baratz-Logsted, “The Twin’s Daughter” (2010)
Book description: “Lucy is stunned when her mother's identical twin sister shows up at the front door. Separated at birth, the twins have led dramatically different lives and Lucy's mother, Aliese, will do anything to make it up to Helen. But Lucy soon suspects that Helen enjoys being mistaken for her mother a bit too much…”
Ms. Baratz-Logsted’s response:
Thanks for asking my opinion on the plethora of "Daughter" titles! I feel like I could write a dissertation on this. But since you didn't ask for anything quite so lengthy, I'll try to keep it brief-ish.
I don't think it actually started with "Daughter" titles. I think it started with "Sister" titles. Think Ya-Ya Sisters and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants etc. Only after those titles had reached a zenith did we start seeing all the "Daughter" books...and let's not forget all the "Wife" books!
It's interesting because while there are some counterparts with male-oriented titles (I myself wrote a novel called The Other Brother), "Brother," "Son" and "Husband" titles are barely a drop in the bucket by comparison. I think that may be because woman have, historically, had their lives defined more by in relation to than men have.
Add to that the fact that - again, just my opinion! - women readers find those words relatable in titles. The "Daughter" titles have over time been the most prevalent and durable because while we may not all be wives and we may not all be sisters, we are all daughters.
That's my theory, anyway! Finally, who can say why certain words become buzzwords in publishing? Years ago, I came up with a list of the seven words most likely to result in bestsellers. But while most were ones others would easily guess - like "Daughter" - there were two that were harder for people to guess: "bees" and "water." I sometimes think that if only I'd organically come up with a title containing one of those words - or possibly better yet, both! - maybe I'd finally be a household name.
Gill Paul, “The Collector’s Daughter”(2021)
Book description: “In 1922, Lady Evelyn Herbert’s dreams are realised when she is the first to set foot inside the lost tomb of Tutankhamun for over 3,000 years. But the months after the discovery are marred by tragedy, when Eve’s father dies suddenly and her family is torn in two…”
Ms. Paul’s response:
You're right, all kinds of ‘daughters' books have been cropping up. I guess it signals that a book covers family relationships and the way the parents' lives affect their children.
In “The Collector's Daughter,” I wrote about Lady Evelyn Herbert, whose father was sponsor of the dig that uncovered the tomb of Tutankhamun. Eve was there the first time the tomb was opened, and may have been the first person to crawl inside, an event that shaped her later life to an extent.
My publishers on both sides of the Atlantic have strong views on titles, and I very rarely get to keep my own first choice. It's a marketing tool, designed to get books stocked in bookshops and attract the kind of readers they think will like the book. They conduct focus groups to see which buzz words readers respond best to, and I suspect 'daughter' does well!
Follow up question: I am curious—when you wrote the "Collector's Daughter," did you have your own title in mind? What was it?
I called it 'The Discovery'! Completely different…
Jeff Wheeler, “The Thief’s Daughter” (2016)
Book description: “Owen Kiskaddon first came to the court of the formidable King Severn as a prisoner, winning favor with the stormy monarch by masquerading as a boy truly blessed by the Fountain. Nine years hence, the once-fearful Owen has grown into a confident young man, mentored in battle and politics by Duke Horwath and deeply in love with his childhood friend, the duke’s granddaughter. But the blissful future Owen and Elysabeth Mortimer anticipate seems doomed by the king’s machinations.”
Mr. Wheeler’s response:
For my books, coming up with the titles is usually a team effort and there are some considerations. For example, I suggested a title for a book that would have been difficult to remember or spell--”Kenatos,” based on a city-state in that world--so it was rejected because it would have made searching for it on-line too difficult. We went with “Fireblood” instead, based on a Druidic magic system.
Here's the story of how “The Thief's Daughter” came about. It's book 2 of my Kingfountain series. The first book was “The Queen's Poisoner.” I came up with that title myself and it was one of the rare times that my publishing team all adored it on the first take. That doesn't always happen. So we decided to stick to the titling convention for the subsequent books in the series - The XXX's ZZZ) and preferably keeping it phonetically ending with an 'R' sound.
My original take for book two was “The Earl's Daughter” (after one of the main characters in the story who was, in fact, a nobleman's daughter). But my publisher thought the term 'Earl' lacked emotional oomph. The term 'daughter' kept with the phonetical 'R' we were going for, so we kept it. Just needed another word to go with it.
Another character in the story, who plays a key role, is a new assassin-in-training who, we come to discover, is the daughter of an infamous thief who hangs out at the Sanctuary of Our Lady at Kingfountain. “Thief” was a more emotionally compelling word than “Earl,” so we switched it. To stick with that convention required even more hair-pulling for book three, but we landed on “The King's Traitor.” Traitor packed a double-punch, it's a charged word and it has two R's in it. Bonus!
So that's the story. There wasn't any other thought for following the naming conventions others were using, but what would be emotionally compelling and easy to find in a search. That trilogy has been my most successful to date.
Sarah McCoy, “The Baker’s Daughter” (2012)
Book Description: “In this New York Times bestseller, two women in different eras face similar life-altering decisions, the politics of exclusion, the terrible choices we face in wartime, and the redemptive power of love.”
Ms. McCoy responds:
You've hit on a popular and puzzling phenomenon. At least to bookworms like us it is popularly mystifying. Being a member of “The ____’s Daughter” club, I can only speak to my experience.
The Baker’s Daughter was published in 2012 and from the beginning of writing (in 2009), I called it by that title. It’s the story of a young German woman named Elsie in Nazi Germany during WWII. She is the daughter of the town’s baker, the baker’s daughter. The book title intrinsically was such. So I can’t say that there was any marketing or reader demographic strategy to the naming.
That said, I do believe that The ____’s Daughter formula appeals to so many readers and writers (particularly females) because it’s one of the few universal commonalities. If you are alive, you came from someone and so, are a daughter/son. You may know your parents or not, doesn’t matter. Your participation, good or bad, in the role has no influence. You are still a daughter/son by existing. How many things in life can we say that about? Not many. There’s great freedom and a feeling of unconditional acceptance in that. We can all relate to being an offspring of some generation of people before us and they can relate to the generation before them.
So being The _____’s Daughter acts as a thread weaving together cultures and generations of stories, weaving the present reader to the past. There’s something supernatural in it, I am convinced, and I am equally sure it will continue to gain popularity.
One of my friends Emily Mandel wrote this wonderful piece for The Millions shortly after my novel The Baker’s Daughter released. She brilliantly examines this very topic. I smile knowing that a decade later, we are still having the discussion. Perhaps it can assist you.
Note: Emily Mandel’s piece, written in 2012, is really quite spectacular and puts my own little investigation to shame. She not only interviewed several bookstore owners on the topic, she created a bar chart tracking the number of daughter titles year-by-year (it had peaked in 2011 at 54), tabulated the breakdown of authors by gender (73% female, 23% male, 3% unknown), and completed a detailed quantitative survey of parent types. The top category? “Artists or artisans,” with “Connected to royalty” a distant second.
Have your own “X’s Daughter” theory? Respond in the comments or drop me a note! AnneKadet@yahoo.com
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