No, Dame Maggie Smith didn’t actually lose her wallet—at least, I hope she didn’t! However, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that title on a shelf at the library or my local bookstore. Whether used for shock value or to elicit nostalgic feelings for a certain era, titles featuring famous people’s names have cropped up fairly often over the last twenty years. More often than not, the plots of these books are as obscure, quirky, and pop culture-ridden as the titles themselves, although some have been serious or politically charged. Check out the examples below, linked to Booklist reviews when available.
Bucky F-ing Dent, by David Duchovny
Ted and his father, Marty, have butted heads for years, especially about baseball, but when Ted discovers that Marty has lung cancer, he moves back home and stages a loving hoax to convince Marty that his favorite team, the Red Sox, is on a winning streak. When Ted’s plan evolves into a road trip to Boston, father and son witness Bucky Dent’s famous 1978 home run.
The Burglar Who Traded Ted Williams, by Lawrence Block
If Bernie isn’t solving crimes, he’s causing them. When the police accuse him of stealing a million-dollar baseball-card collection, he can’t very well admit that he was breaking into a different apartment at the time—an apartment with a dead body in the bathroom, no less! To clear his name, Bernie decides to solve the burglary himself.
Einstein’s Dreams, by Alan Lightman
In brief, poetic vignettes, Lightman imagines the dreams Einstein might’ve experienced while trying to untangle theories of time. In one story, time spins fastest at the center of the Earth, which means the people living at the top of the tallest buildings age slowly. In another, time is a bird. Only the youthful are agile enough to catch it, but they don’t, because they’re in a hurry to grow up. The old, who wish to freeze time, are too slow to catch the bird.
Frank Sinatra in a Blender, by Matthew McBride
This brutal but entertaining noir follows the exploits of a P.I. who pops pills, drinks booze, and runs around with his best pal, a Yorkie. We would tell you where Sinatra’s name and the blender fit in, but then you probably wouldn’t want to read it.
Jimi Hendrix Turns Eighty, by Tim Sandlin
In 2022—the year Jimi Hendrix celebrates his eightieth birthday—the residents of a nursing home regress to the behavior they enjoyed in their New Age youth. What starts as pot indulgence escalates into a ’60s-style revolution, and their antics, though hilarious, also reveal their fear of aging.
The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath, by Kimberly Knutsen
Frustrated with his work and family life, Wilson avoids finishing his dissertation about Sylvia Plath. His marriage is crippled even further when both he and his wife, Katie, commit adultery, and when Katie’s pregnant sister moves into their house, which is already crowded with three children.
Mao II, by Don DeLillo
A reclusive author travels to London and Lebanon to negotiate the release of a Swiss writer held captive by a Maoist group. Featuring one of Andy Warhol’s Mao Zedong prints on the cover and following a writer who abandons his craft in favor of politics, this masterpiece navigates the worlds of art and terrorism, noting their similarities, especially the amount of planning that goes into their executions and their influence over mob mentality.
Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die, by Mark Binelli
Binelli reimagines Nic Sacco and Bart Vanzetti—the Italian anarchists unfairly tried and executed as murderers in the 1920s—as slapstick performers, famous for their vaudeville acts and silent movies. As the line differentiating comedy and anarchy fades, the duo takes on the characteristics of their real-life counterparts.
Below are more novels named after real people, some of whom star in the story or make a cameo. Can you think of any that didn’t make the list? Sound off in the comments!
Adios Hemingway, by Leonardo Padura Fuentes
Dewey Defeats Truman, by Thomas Mallon
I Am Not Jackson Pollock, by John Haskell
The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe, by Andrew O’Hagan
Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, by Susan Elia MacNeal
Schindler’s List, by Thomas Keneally