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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2018

What’s in a Name?

Once I get caught up on all my other reading, I plan to re-read a book on my shelf which is called Turtles All the Way Down. Have you heard of it?

If you said yes, then you probably fell into my trap. I’m guessing that you thought to yourself, yes, that’s the new book by best-selling YA author John Green. You are not wrong, of course, but the book I have on my shelf, which is indeed called Turtles All the Way Down, is not by John Green.

What are the odds that even one book would have that title—let alone two of them? What does the title even mean anyway? Thanks to the internet, that question is pretty easy to answer. It is an expression of infinite regress. The idea is that ancient Hindu mythology conceived of the world as the earth being supported on the back of a turtle. That turtle stood on the back of a larger turtle. And so did that turtle. And so on ad infinitum. It’s a pretty clever idea for a title really. It’s unusual and intriguing and perhaps gets people curious to read the book if only to find out what the title means.

That may very well be the reason that, in an Irish bookstore a couple of decades ago, I decided to pick up the book. Published in 1997 and written by Gaye Shortland, Turtles All the Way Down is narrated by Tony, who is what you might call a free spirit—in a pretty literal sense. You see, before the book even begins, Tony is dead and cremated. In fact, he was dead and cremated even before Shortland’s previous novel, to which Turtles All the Way Down is a sequel. That one was called Mind That ’Tis My Brother, which is Tony’s brother Liam’s admonition to someone who insists on inspecting the urn he is carrying from London to Cork. A blurb promotes the book thusly: “A lethal mixture of sex, religion and MTV, Mind That has been described by Gaye’s then-teenaged daughter as ‘not very healthy but a good laugh.’ ”

That is why I am revisiting the book. No, not because of the religion and sex and MTV (well, not entirely anyway) but because it is about Cork. The characters are Corkonians. The language is pure Corkese. It was nearly impenetrable when I perused the book the first time. Written quasi-phonetically, it nearly needs to be read out loud to be understood—at least for a non-Corkonian. After a couple of decades’ exposure to various Irish accents, however, and several visits to the Cork Film Festival and watching movies like The Young Offenders and its spinoff TV series as well as Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope, I may finally be getting a handle on Rebel City patois. You see, in a fit of questionable judgment, I have decided to make one of the main characters in my fourth novel a Corkonian. Am I mad or what? Will I be able to pull it off? Probably not. In any event, it is fun trying to get my head around the lingo anyway.

The book does have a working title, which may turn out to be the final title. We’ll see. It is kind of long, which is a disappointment since I tried to swear off long titles after Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead which, as far as I know, is the only book with that title. One thing is for sure, I will definitely not be calling the new book Turtles All the Way Down. For one thing, it would make absolutely no sense. For another, unlikely as it may be, there are already two books with that title. Of course, I could use that title if I actually did want to.

As I am sure John Green—and virtually every other published author—knows, you cannot copyright a title.

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