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Two Books, One Title: How to Avoid Perpetual Confusion

cloudatlasI only wanted one thing for Christmas this year. Well, two things, but I didn’t trust global nuclear disarmament to happen overnight, so I awoke on the morning of the 25th hoping more than anything that I would find a fresh, new copy of Cloud Atlas in my hands. And yes! I was successful; after months of subtle hinting at my parents that I didn’t want to see the movie without reading the book, I was holding the acclaimed novel, as happy as if it were brought to me specially by author Liam Callanan.

I didn’t know much about the book, just a few facts. There were apparently ten different stories, and Tom Hanks was in all of them. Other than that, I had no idea what to expect, so after a few chapters of watching a priest administer sacraments in Alaska, everything seemed great.

But then, I saw it. In my school library. It was sitting there in a glass prison labelled as the literature-to-film showcase, sandwiched between On the Road and The Perks of Being a Wallflower, staring at me, with its sardonic book smile.

It was Cloud Atlas. By David Mitchell.

What? No! But–

True, I had wondered when the other nine stories were going to start, but it had never occurred to me that the rules of literary nomenclature could have failed me so grandly. But alas, a quick Google search revealed that they indeed had; I had the wrong Cloud Atlas, and I hadn’t even noticed for sixty-three pages.

Even though I seem to have a chronic issue with mix-ups (until about a week ago, I could have sworn that Hoover lost the 1932 election and immediately became head of the FBI), I still haven’t exactly developed a reasonable way to deal with them, so before I knew it, I had purchased David Mitchell’s take on what should be a relatively uncommon title, and vowed to read both Cloud Atlases at the very same time, one at home, one at school, until I could decide once and for all which was the one, true Cloud Atlas.

Consequently, I have not finished either and occasionally forget what’s going on in whichever one I didn’t just put down.

So, to help you all avoid the pitfalls of my life, I’ve compiled a short list of situations in which two books are in danger of being confused. I can’t accommodate all of them, because I haven’t read  all of them, but the few that I have read, and ones that I haven’t but I know become problematic sometimes, I will include here:

The Cloud Atlas vs. Cloud Atlas

Okay, everyone. Now is the time to learn from my mistakes. The Cloud Atlas by Liam Callanan is a novel about a World War II bomb defuser that is stationed in Alaska and eventually becomes a priest. I like it a lot because the narrator is so friendly that it’s like reading Santa Claus’s autobiography. Meanwhile, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell was published in the exact same year and tells a very different story. Well, six different stories (not ten, as I had originally presumed), ranging from a sailor on the Pacific in the mid-nineteenth century, to a mischievous composer, to an investigative journalist trying to solve a murder. I assure you, there’s more, stories that I have not yet reached, stories that keep moving forward and backward in time, even into the future. Some of the best parts about this Cloud Atlas are the extremely well-developed characters, especially my favorite, the fictional composer and college dropout Robert Frobisher, and the fact that all the stories are somehow connected, even though they seem ultimately disjointed. In this way, it’s not only a story to read, but a puzzle to put together.

Perhaps it is also worth mentioning that I am not the only one affected by similar titles; one of my best friends, JoJo, was prohibited from seeing the Cloud Atlas movie because her parents thought it was the sequel to Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

Invisible Man vs. The Invisible Man

Here’s another example where the word “the” can make a huge difference. First, let’s examine Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. This winner of the 1953 National Book Award explores the injustices faced by an African-American man in the early twentieth century and offers an inside picture of the Black Nationalist movement in Harlem. I haven’t read it, but from the short summaries I’ve seen of it, it looks like an amazing book. On the other hand, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells is the well-known science fiction tale of a man that is literally invisible. No, not figuratively invisible like Ralph Ellison’s protagonist, but truly unable to be seen. Unlike Ellison’s novel, The Invisible Man doesn’t really have any bones to pick with the ills of society, and its cold, hard, third-person narrator that neglects to even name the protagonist until halfway through the story sort of stifles any potential personal connection with the character. Of course, Ellison’s narrator remained unnamed throughout the entire book, but at least we got his thoughts and feelings. If they have anything in common, it’s that they’re both educational in their own weird way: Ellison’s novel, with its description of real social problems, and Wells’s illustration of the 1890s obsession with science and research.

Other Possible Mistakes

  • Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is the famous, Tony-winning tragedy of Willy Loman. Death of a Salesperson is a series of mystery stories.
  • There are at least four different young adult books called Twilight: one by Kate Tiernan, one by Meg Cabot, and one by Elie Wiesel, acclaimed author of Night. And also that other one. Yeah, let’s face it, the other ones could be pretty good (especially that Elie Wiesel book), but if you’re hearing about Twilight, I think we all know who wrote it.

Anyway, the moral of this story is: don’t judge a book by its title. There are only so many words in the English language, and some of them — like “dandruff,” “socks,” and “acetone” — just aren’t as inherently cool (cool being defined mostly by publishing companies, an adjective synonymous with “marketable”) as others, like “invisible” or “twilight,” so it can only be inevitable that those words get slapped together on a book cover more than once.

Not that this is such bad thing. It isn’t impossible for two books with the same title to be equally good, even in different ways.

— Cory C., 11th grade, currently and perhaps perpetually reading both versions of Cloud Atlas

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  1. Now I want to read THE Cloud Atlas.

    Just a note, Death of a Salesman is actually written by Arthur Miller, the playwright who was married to Marilyn Monroe. Not to be confused with Arthur Miller, the law professor, who wrote most of the copyright laws.

  2. Vicky Vicky

    I once almost bought The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho for my kids instead of The Alchemyst by Miachel Scott.

  3. Diane Colson Diane Colson

    Too funny!

    I have my own title mix-up story, although not as entertaining as yours. I was in a meeting with a bunch of librarians and one (my boss, actually) referred to the “classic Invisible Man,” trying to recall the author. I piped up with Ralph Ellison. Yikes, wrong answer! Coldly, she informed ma that, no, the classic Invisible Man was the H. G. Wells book. Talk about uncomfortable!

    (I still think I was right though.)

  4. Mike Mike

    Death of a Salesman was written by Arthur Miller, not Tennessee Williams.

    • Mike Mike

      Sorry; should have read the first reply.

  5. My sister often recommends titles to me over the phone. I write them down now, but last year she mentioned one that sounded interesting. After I got off the hone, I couldn’t remember the title. I knew it contained the word journey or journal, something about indecision, and had a male name beginning with “H”. A library search turned up 2 possibilities: “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce and “The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen” by Susin Nielsen. Both were good, but for very different reasons and targeted at very different audiences. I found out recently that she actually recommended “Harold Fry”. And I got to read two really good books at the cost of one search.

  6. Rhoda Rhoda

    Of course the one you really don’t want to get confused about is Shades of Grey.
    There’s Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde which is a quirky dystopian story.
    Then you have Between Shades of Grey which is a depressing young adult historical novel set in Siberia.
    Shades of Gray about female superheroes Jet and Iridium was changed to Shades of Night in the UK.
    None of these should be confused with the famous Fifty Shades of Grey, especially when reccomending books to teenagers.
    I’d really reccomend the Jasper Fforde one, it’s just a shame he hasn’t written a sequal yet.

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