"And make no mistake: irony tyrannizes us." - David Foster Wallace

This month I’m participating in @thebookwheel’s #30Authors in 30 Days by guest-blogging over at @lovelybookshelf.

My favorite living writer, David Mitchell’s new novel The Bone Clocks is out and will not disappoint.

Click here to find out what I loved about it and why it is important to me that David Mitchell loves Star Trek.

This excellent question came in to me this week via Facebook:

Reader: Hello, I have enjoyed your book very much. Thank you. I have a silly question if you don’t mind; Why didn’t you use italics when using titles of other books as images in your story? I’m thinking on The Garden of Forking Paths and As I Lay Dying, specifically. Any way, thank you again for the story!

Me: Hi! Thanks so much for reading! And for the great question (not silly at all!)… despite the fact that I teach writing classes all the time - including ones on how to properly cite sources and format titles - there are lots of strange gray areas like this one where I never quite know what to do. (Thank goodness for copyeditors!) Most times in the novel where a title is referenced directly, it would be italicized: The Pink Packet Thieves, The Woman in White, No Name, etc.

In these two cases I believe the narrator is making a more oblique reference to the Borges story and the Faulkner novel… the statement “My notebook is a garden of forking paths” for instance, while it evokes that title, does not mean that his notebook is The Garden of Forking Paths (the story itself), but just a garden (metaphorically) similar to the one described in the story.

Similar for the next one - “But it’s this wondering that is growing louder and louder, now, as I lie here dying.” The reference there is definitely to the title of the Faulkner novel, but not to the physical book itself. If the sentence were, “Jeffrey’s favorite chapter in As I Lay Dying was the nineteenth, consisting of the single sentence, ‘My mother is a fish.’” then I would have absolutely italicized the title!

As in the line in Chapter 3… “I have an audition tomorrow for a new adaptation of The Unnameable" where Evelyn here means literally "the play The Unnameable by Samuel Beckett”. If the narrator later were to say, “I walked through the sticky marketplace, filled with the unnameable…” it wouldn’t be italicized because the marketplace is not literally filled with copies of Samuel Beckett’s play.