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February 18, 2011

Silas House: ELI THE GOOD

Posted by jordana

For today's blog post we have Silas House here, writing about why he gave his book ELI THE GOOD that particular title, especially when it would seem (as many of you all have pointed out), maybe Eli isn't that good! 

As soon as my novel, Eli the Good, was published, I started receiving emails and letters from readers who wanted to know why I had given that title to the book.

“Eli is NOT good,” one teenager wrote, dumbfounded by my insistence on giving my lead character a positive spin. “He eavesdrops, he reads letters that don’t belong to him, he does something terrible to his best friend! I loved this book but the title is misleading!!!”
In the first paragraph of the book, Eli tells us that he “did something unforgiveable” and so we know right away that he’s not as good as the title might have implied.  
However, the point of the title is that Eli is trying very, very hard to be good, and that’s what makes him good: the act of striving for goodness. The way I see it, nobody is perfect, and most of us are far from it. We screw up all the time. But the way to become good is to try our hardest to be better people.     
Really, that’s all we can do. 
That’s what Eli is doing, and that’s what his aunt realizes when she dubs him with the name “Eli the Good” after she overhears him being ostracized by two boys who are making fun of him because he won’t kill fireflies. Once I wrote that scene I knew that was going to be my title, and it felt perfect to me. 
At that point I had been working on the novel for years and hadn’t found the right name for it (some of the discarded titles include The Trees Remember Us, Their Secret Trees, The Totally Private and Secret Thoughts of Eli, The Book of Eli (which later became the name of a Denzel Washington movie that came out around the same time as my book!) but I always knew that none of those were quite right. When the phrase “Eli the Good” came to me, I knew that was the one.
Naming a book is one of the most important moments in a book’s creation. A title should give you lots of information in a subtle way. In this case, hopefully the title is letting you know that the main character is Eli and that you’ll be learning about his world from his point of view. 
But Eli the Good isn’t necessarily meant to tell you that he’s good so much as it is meant to make you question why he is good. 
A great title should always contain a mystery. For a couple examples on that, think of two of my favorite books, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton.  The title To Kill a Mockingbird doesn’t make a bit of sense until you actually read the book and come to understand the phrase. The best thing about The Outsiders is that it’s not as simple a title as it may first appear. After reading the book one might consider what it’s called and ponder exactly who The Outsiders actually are…the Soc’s or the Greasers? And isn’t Pony Boy an outsider in his own family and amongst his own “tribe,” the Greasers? See, it’s a mystery.
By the way, if you haven’t read To Kill a Mockingbird or The Outsiders, please do. They’re two of the best novels EVER. In the whole history of the world. I promise.
The best titles, like the best books, are the ones that allow the readers to think about things and don’t spell everything out for them. The best titles and books are mysteries that give the reader some control. 
So maybe, now that I think about it, I shouldn’t have explained the title after all, leaving the mystery for the reader. 
But hey, I’m trying to be like Eli and be as good as I can. That doesn’t mean I don’t still occasionally mess up…