(To read the entire "War Memoirs" series, please click here.)
Thomas Ricks recently brought up a great point: a lot of war memoirs have terrible titles.
Now I love titles. I love coming up with fake titles for hypothetical bands, albums, blogs and novels. So when I started reading post-9/11 war memoirs, their (sub par) titles were one of the first things I noticed. Most are either bland (War, My War, War and Decision), boring (Wiser in Battle, My Year in Iraq, One Man's Army, Good Soldiers), or over-the-top (Warrior King, Lone Survivor, Seal of Honor). And they tend to have really long and really hyperbolic subtitles, like "A Marine Platoon's Story of Courage, Leadership, and Brotherhood," or "The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10."
Since TR brought up this issue, and since I've been thinking about it, this week, and next, I’m covering war memoirs titles. Which ones I liked, which ones I didn’t, and why. To research, I found the forty most popular titles I could, and began blasting them apart. But to show I'm not entirely negative, I'll cover what I liked first. In no particular order, my...
5 Favorite War Memoir Titles
Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War by Matt Gallagher - Now that's how you write a title/subtitle combo. Boom. I'd read this book. (And will when I have time.)
Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman by Jon Krakauer - Krakauer uses the always-effective "quote the classics in the title" formula, and uses it perfectly (though I wouldn't describe Tillman's story as an odyssey, that's a minor quibble). This title is philosophical, heroic and tragic, all in 4 short words. Might be the best.
My War Gone By, I Miss It So by Anthony Lloyd- Haven't read this yet, but this title makes want to. Since that's really a title's only job, it has to be considered a success.
Dispatches by Michael Herr- Short, evocative, perfect.
The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq by John Crawford- At sixteen words, it's a little long, but what can I say? The title and subtitle work well together. The title intrigues, and the sub-title describes without giving away too much. Plus it shows an awareness of the central problem with memoirs: honesty.
War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning - This isn't a memoir, but it's the only book that I know of that has its thesis in the title. And that cracks me up.
...And 4 More Almost Great Ones
Love My Rifle More Than You: Young and Female in the U.S. Army by Kayla Williams - I love the title--it's probably the best I've read--but the subtitle is redundant.
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien- Michael says I'm biased because so many books I liked ended up on this list. I'm not. Good follows good. Most classics have classic titles, because good writers know how to write good titles; it's the same skill set. And The Things They Carried is a classic title. (Though it violates one of my personal, esoteric title pet peeves: including the name of a story or song track in the title of an album or short story/essay collection.)
My War: Killing Time in Iraq by Colby Buzzell - This subtitle should have been the title. And seriously Buzzell, google your title before you send it to the printers. Rooney's book came out years before yours.
The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War by Brandon Friedman- Again, I love the title but hate the redundant subtitle.