A Book With a One-Word Title: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge 2021

September 13, 2021 | Pauline

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How can you sum up an entire book, with the years of work that went into it, in just one word? Accurately conveying the content and essence of a book via a succinct title is not a job I envy unless I get to use a long subtitle (which in my case would probably turn out to be a rambling run-on sentence, taking over the whole book cover). The title of a book indicates what you can expect from it, and managing to summarize it all in one word is quite a feat.

Where possible I've been trying to do the 2021 TPL Reading Challenge entirely with non-fiction books. For the prompt “a book with a one-word title,” I think giving myself the even further constraint of having no subtitle is a fun bonus challenge. Otherwise, it would have been easy for me to re-read one of Mary Roach’s books with the titles: Stiff, Spook, Bonk, Gulp, Grunt. The books are about: cadavers, ghosts, sex, the human digestive system, and human bodies at war, respectively. These titles were also recommended in the TPL Reading Challenge Facebook group.


Thankfully, my favourite author Dr. Oliver Sacks has a penchant for one-word titles, including his classic Awakenings. This book is about his patients suffering from post-encephalitic (inflammation of the brain) Parkinsons and his work to treat them. I am fascinated by his books, profiling interesting cases he has come across through his years working as a neurologist, written with care and compassion. 

As for fiction, I really enjoyed Emma Donoghue's recent novel Akin. As soon as I saw that the book was set in the French Riviera in the summer, I bumped the title up to the top of my reading pile, the others could wait. The story is about a man and his great-nephew as they set off for Nice, France. The story follows them as they get to know each other and discover their family history in the south of France. It is a heart-warming, and oftentimes funny, read and it can work for multiple categories.



Staff Recommendations

Here are some recommendations from TPL staff for "a book with a one-word title".


Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Binti (the book's hero and its one-word title) is on a spaceship to an intergalactic university when enemy aliens attack. As the first person to leave her homeland for the university, Binti is uniquely positioned to confront the aliens. This novella manages to pack a ton of world-building and excitement into under 100 pages. But don't worry about being left wanting more, it is the first book in a three-part series.

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A book of speculative fiction by a BIPOC author
  • A book that is the first in a series


Sock by Penn Jillette

The first one that comes to mind is a weird little book called Sock by Penn Jillette. It's not going to work for everyone. The book is narrated by Dickie, a grumpy sock monkey, owned by police diver Clayton Fraser Benz. On a dive, Benz finds the murdered body of a former lover and teams up with the victim's best friend to solve the crime. Although at first, I found the premise annoying (sock monkey narrator? come on!), ultimately I was sucked into the world of Sock. It's packed with pop culture references and song lyrics, if you like that kind of thing -- I do.

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A book about growing older


Hench by Natalie Zina Walschots

Hench may be on your radar as it was nominated for CBC’s 2021 Canada Reads and well-defended by Paul Sun-Hyung Lee from Kim’s Convenience. This sprawling superhero adventure follows Anna, who graduates from temping for villains to becoming a criminal mastermind in a wild, relentless arc. I could not put this book down! I think you’ll be equally hooked by Anna’s quest for revenge and redemption.

Another staff member also recommended Hench:

Debut speculative fiction novel by Toronto-based poet and journalist Natalie Zina Walschots.

The “hench” of the title is our anti-hero Anna Tromedlove, a temp worker who pays the bills doing data entry for supervillains. One day, Anna takes a gig as a henchperson - a disposable underling to a villainous boss - for the Electric Eel. She winds up suffering a serious workplace injury when the indestructible Supercollider comes to save the day. Anna is left immobile, out of work, and miserable. During recovery, she starts to wonder about the true cost of the collateral damage caused by superheroes. So, she builds the kinds of data spreadsheets that librarians dream of. Her work draws the attention of the mysterious arch-villain, Leviathan, who helps Anna realize her revenge. A wildly fun critique of power structures, the gig economy, state violence, class inequality and social injustice. It's also solid disability and queer representation, all disguised as a story about superheroes and villains.

- Winona, Services Specialist


Astra by Cedar Bowers

Astra is a woman born on a remote commune in British Columbia and this book tells the story of her life. However, each chapter is a snapshot of a particular moment in time and filtered through the perspective of another character. Throughout the read, our understanding of Astra is constantly recreated, depending on who is telling her story. If you happen to think a lot about the different versions of yourself living in other people’s minds, this is a book for you!

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A book about growing older
  • A book about someone unlike yourself
  • A debut book
  • A book published this year

- Marta, Librarian


Consent by Donna Freitas

OH, so many titles for this category!! But I'm going with non-fiction, and two with the same title. Consent by Donna Freitas (2019) chronicles sexual politics on campus, and how, as a graduate student, she was stalked by a respected professor. Consent by Vanessa Springora (2021) is translated from French and relates the story of the seduction and abuse of Springora as an adolescent in Paris. Both are difficult but important reads, but their very existence is a testament to progress in the #MeToo era.

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A book that is narrative non-fiction
  • A book about love (not just the romantic kind)

Springora's book was published this year and also fits the criterion of Fame, as her abuser was an award-winning author.

- Vivien, Senior Branch Head


Shiver by Allie Reynolds

A weekend reunion in the French Alps leaves a group of former snowboarding competitors stranded at a mountain top resort, during a snowstorm with no staff nor power on site. Tensions build as one of them is playing a deadly game of trying to resolve the mystery of one member’s disappearance from 10 years ago.

This is an intriguing, sharp, and suspense-filled whodunit book, which kept me on my toes!

This book is being adapted into a TV series.

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A debut book
  • A book published this year

- Pia, Branch Head


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

This is historical fiction at its finest. Beginning in Ghana in the late 1700s, two half-sisters follow different destinies. One is married off to an Englishman and stays in Ghana, while the other is sold into slavery and sent to America. The book follows the descendants of the two women through 7 generations and the legacy of slavery on those who went to America and those who stayed in Ghana.

Other reading challenge categories:

  • A debut book
  • A book about someone unlike yourself

- Brenda, Senior Branch Head


Mortality by Christopher Hitchens

Comprised of 7 essays, this book was published after the author's death in 2012. Hitchens chronicles his struggle with cancer, his journey in the "land of malady", the joy of a good conversation, musings about religion, and the juxtaposition of life and imminent death. His writing is honest, erudite and a testament to his courage while looking death in the eye.

- Eunice, Librarian


Recommendations from the Facebook Group

These are just a few of the suggested titles from our lovely Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2021 discussion group. You can read all of the responses in the thread. You do not need a Facebook account to read the suggestions.


What would you recommend for "a book with a one-word title”? Add your suggestions in the comments section below, or join in the live online discussion on Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 4pm. If you miss the live event, you can also watch the replay on CrowdCast.