(with apologies to Richard Lederer for using his title)
I have decided that I have a love/hate relationship with the pun. In everyday conversation, I love them. And I'm an equal opportunity punster. Not only do I love making them, I love when others do, too. Of course, I won't admit that to them. Rather, I roll my eyes and wince, while secretly admiring the pun maker's verbal abilities. This seems to be a requirement for literate adults: We love making and hearing puns, but we're not allowed to admit it. They are one of our guilty pleaures, and we must never admit to enjoying them, just as we can't admit in polite company that we watch reruns of Star Trek, snack on Doritos, or greatly enjoyed the latest mindless action thriller.
But every man has his limits, and I realized where mine is: in book titles. For reasons I can't begin to explain, the mystery genre seems to have fairly exploded with punning titles. I could give a few titles, but (because I try to keep this blog mostly positive) I don't want to risk offending any particular writer. Besides, I probably don't have to mention any books by name. If you're a fan of the genre, you could probably think of half a dozen punning titles off the top of your head.
What does a punning title say to me? I hate to sound snobbish -- because I really do believe in publishing to what people want to read, and I have absolutely no quarrel with escapist fiction and first-class plot-driven storytelling -- but a punning title says the following to me: "I am not to be taken seriously. When you read me, you will be bombarded with large slabs of unrefined humor, laid on as thick as lard. My pages are not, and never can be, as funny as my title. You'll read me on an airplane, and forget me as soon as you've turned the last page. I am as filling and satisfying as unbuttered, unsalted popcorn."
The problem is that puns work best when used sparingly (think Shakespeare, and how the occasional pun is titillating, but how annoying those stretches of dialogue with one pun after another, as in the Fool's usual method of communication, can be). So, while a punning title may give me a momentary smile, I know that 99 times out of 100, I won't enjoy the book. I'll find that it works too hard to be funny and comes across as labored, like those people at parties who are so desperate to be funny that they come across as rather pathetic.
This is why our assistant never sends any pun-based queries to me. I have an inherent bias against them and probably wouldn't give them a fair shake. They go to a colleague of mine, who is much nicer and more open minded, though (come to think of it) I can't remember her ever signing a book with a punning title.