Monday, October 22, 2012

A question of integrity

A few years ago, while shopping for books in Canada, I found a Susan Howatch paperback called A Question of Integrity. I own a number of Howatch novels but had never heard of this one, so I grabbed it up. I wondered at the time and I have wondered many times since why this particular novel isn't available in the United States when her other novels are. The book I bought was a British imprint, but I have never gotten around to reading it.

Recently I discovered I had owned an American edition of the novel all this time, also unread. The American edition is titled The Wonder Worker. So I spent about $14 dollars for a paperback I already owned because the American edition had a different title than the original British edition.

Giving books different titles when they are published in different countries is a long-established practice in the publishing industry. Sometimes this makes sense, as when different languages are involved or when titles mean something very different in one country than they do in another. The English spoken in the U.S. isn't really that different from the English spoken in Great Britain, however. I'm not sure why the American publisher (Knopf) thought The Wonder Worker was a better title than A Question of Integrity (Warner Books). One title seems as good as the other.

Several Agatha Christie mysteries got new titles when they were reprinted in the United States. Hickory, Dickory, Dock became Hickory Dickory Death. The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side became The Mirror Crack'd. Murder Is Easy became Easy to Kill. Murder on the Orient Express became Murder in the Calais Coach. They Do It with Mirrors became Murder with Mirrors. Sparkling Cyanide became Remembered Death. Destination Unknown became So Many Steps to Death. 4:50 from Paddington became What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw.

Some of these changes may have been improvements, such as Hickory Dickory Death. Some were disasters, such as Murder in the Calais Coach. Most of them were just unnecessarily different, but still confusing to Agatha Christie fans.

I'm sure titles are changed in hope of selling more books, not to mislead readers into buying books they already own. Even so, unnecessary title changes seem unfair, not just to readers, but also to authors and to the books themselves. A book should have one title, not many titles. It's a question of integrity.

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