From a discussion of Richard Ford and John Updike:
I can’t think of a single good title among all of Updike’s stories and novels. OK, I guess The Witches of Eastwick isn’t a bad title. But that’s about it. Nothing in the oeuvre to match the title, The Sportswriter.
Philip K. Dick was another writer who couldn’t come up with a good title to save his life. Hemingway, though–he knew how to write a title. Over and over again, he came up with winners. It’s a real skill.
It was only years after publishing Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks that I realized I should’ve called it Learning Statistics: A Bag of Tricks. Maybe it was years after writing Rabbit, Run, that Updike realized he should’ve called it Anhedonia or whatever. (And the sequels: Rabbit Redux and the rest . . . great novels, but awful, awful titles. What was he thinking??)
Raymond Carver’s titles are good, but that impresses me less since I’m not so impressed with his stories. George V. Higgins’s titles were OK–not bad, mostly not great–but his novels had some classic last lines. He really knew how to sum it up, often with a character making a devastating offhand remark.
After writing this, I scanned my bookshelves. Most of the books on the shelf have good titles. Apparently it’s just not that hard to do. Looked at from that perspective, there’s almost something heroic in Updike’s inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to come up with more than one or two good titles among dozens of books and hundreds (probably thousands) of stories. and articles.
P.S. Gore Vidal is another great writer who can’t seem to come up with a good title to save his life. Cheever, on the other hand, could really whip ‘em off: The Swimmer, The Housebreaker of Shady Hill, and all the rest.