Good Books — Bad Reviews

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Paul Thek (1933–1988), The Personal Effects of the Pied Piper

Writers Hate Writers is more amusing a subject than this one, still it’s a enlightening to remember that books that nowadays are considered classics haven’t been recognized as literary gems immediately upon publishing.

“A master of the concentrated short story, Hemingway is less sure in his grasp of the form of the elaborated novel. The shape of For Whom the Bell Tolls is sometimes slack and sometimes bulging. It is certainly quite a little too long.” The New Republic

“But the most conspicuous lack, in comparison with the classics of the fearsome-future genre, is the inability to imagine a language to match the changed face of common life. No newspeak. And nothing like the linguistic tour de force of A Clockwork Orange – the brutal melting-down of current English and Slavic words that in itself tells the story of the dread new breed.

The writing of The Handmaid’s Tale is undistinguished in a double sense, ordinary if not glaringly so, but also indistinguishable from what one supposes would be Margaret Atwood’s normal way of expressing herself in the circumstances. This is a serious defect, unpardonable maybe for the genre: a future that has no language invented for it lacks a personality. That must be why, collectively, it is powerless to scare.” The New York Times

“The book as a whole is disappointing, and not merely because it is a reworking of a theme that one begins to suspect must obsess the author. Holden Caulfield, the main character who tells his own story, is an extraordinary portrait, but there is too much of him. …

In the course of 277 pages, the reader wearies of [his] explicitness, repetition and adolescence, exactly as one would weary of Holden himself. And this reader at least suffered from an irritated feeling that Holden was not quite so sensitive and perceptive as he, and his creator, thought he was.” The New Republic

“The short, flat sentences of which the novel is composed convey shock and despair better than an array of facts or effusive mourning. Still, deliberate simplicity is as hazardous as the grand style, and Vonnegut occasionally skids into fatuousness…” The New Yorker

“I happen to feel that the book would have been infinitely better had it been edited down to, say, 500 pages — but there speaks the harassed daily reviewer an [sic] well as the would-be judicious critic. Very nearly every reader will agree, no doubt, that a more disciplined and less prodigal piece of work would have more nearly done justice to the subject-matter.” The New York Times

“It is not so much a novel as a long affectionate lark inspired by the so-called “beat” generation, and an example of the degree to which some of the most original work being done in this country has come to depend upon the bizarre and the offbeat for its creative stimulus.” The New York Times

“Mr. Huxley has the jitters. Looking back over his career one can see that he has always had them, in varying degrees… [he] rushes headlong into the great pamphleteering movement. [Brave New World] is a lugubrious and heavy-handed piece of propaganda.” NYHTBR

“Miss Lee’s problem has been to tell the story she wants to tell and yet to stay within the consciousness of a child, and she hasn’t consistently solved it.” The Saturday Review

“Scott Fitzgerald’s new novel, The Great Gatsby is in form no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that…

This story is obviously unimportant and, though, as I shall show, it has its place in the Fitzgerald canon, it is certainly not to be put on the same shelf with, say, This Side of Paradise. What ails it, fundamentally, is the plain fact that it is simply a story — that Fitzgerald seems to be far more interested in maintaining its suspense than in getting under the skins of its people.” The Chicago Tribune

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Lolita then, is undeniably news in the world of books. Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn’t worth any adult reader’s attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive…

Past the artistic danger line of madness is another even more fatal. It is where the particular mania is a perversion like Humbert’s. To describe such a perversion with the pervert’s enthusiasm without being disgusting is impossible. If Mr. Nabokov tried to do so he failed.” The New York Times

One doesn’t have to agree or disagree with the expressed opinions of venerable literary critics — or anyone’s opinion for that matter… That is to say, I hold my own about all of the books above and, I confess, I’m not 100% disdainful of some of the criticism… of some of the critics… of some of the books above.

Matter of note: several of the book weren’t merely negatively received by literary critics — for a period of time shortly after their publication the following books were altogether or nearly banned : Lolita (in France, Argentina and New Zealand),  The Catcher in the Rye (in Australia, USA), Brave New World (in some states of the USA, in Ireland and a number of other European countries),  Slaughterhouse-Five (many people in the US were in favor of banning the book, accusing its author in vulgarity, violence, profanity, immorality and lack of patriotism. In some European countries, the book was banned for its anti-militaristic sentiment. More on this in Kurt Vonnegut, Extraordinarily Insulted.)

Bad books — good reviews… well, that should be a different story altogether.


To Kill The Iron Lady


A brilliant – and rather transgressive – collection of short stories from the double Man Booker Prize-winning author of ‘Wolf Hall’ and ‘Bring Up the Bodies’. (The Guardian)

The only new, unpublished story in Hilary Mantel’s new book is its  titular short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983. It was published online by the Guardian, immediately noticed and stirred up some passions. Disdain and outrage, mostly. UK politicians were especially verbal. In that very spirit, The Daily Telegraph, having bought exclusive rights for a hefty penny, wisely or otherwise, decided against publishing it. 

Tory MP Conor Burns told the Sunday Times that the story represented a grave offence to the victims of the IRA. “I also never cease to be amazed by the disordered psyche of some on the left,” he said, and more:

“Mantel’s contribution is peculiarly damaging because, while she appears so mild-mannered, her message is interpretable as a deadly one. If you don’t like your democratically elected leaders, who operate within the rule of law, you can always think about assassinating them.”

Lord Timothy Bell, a friend and former PR adviser to Thatcher, told the Sunday Times, “This is in unquestionably bad taste.” He has condemned The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and called for the police to investigate.

What was so “damaging” in Mantel’s story that appalled the MP? Was the distinguished and indisputably clever writer so obvious and straightforward in creating her tidbit of alternative history to call for such reaction?

hilary mantelWas she?  Mantel’s story transports us back in time — although not quite as far back as her Thomas Cromwell novels — to the year 1983, August 6. In her Windsor apartment, a woman is expecting a plumber. Disguised as one, an Irish assassin shows up. He is cool and presentable. Calmly, he sets up his implements of assassination at the apartment’s window — a perfect spot to carry out his mission: to kill the Iron Lady. The view from the window overlooks the hospital entrance. Margaret Thatcher is expected to appear shortly for a minor eye surgery. Rifle on his lap, the IRA assassin waits. A woman-narrator, now a hostage, engages her intruder in conversation about politics.

Eventually, Thatcher emerges: “The bag on the arm, slung like a shield. The tailored suit… the glittering helmet of hair… like a gold coin in a gutter.”

Mantel’s protagonists become unlikely allies conspiring to kill the prime minister. The writer succeeds where terrorists failed.

Iron Lady

Hilary Mantel admitted that her story was inspired by a fantasy, a wicked reverie: At noon on Saturday, August 6, 1983, she caught a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher near her Windsor apartment, similar to the one in the story. The former Prime Minister  wandered into her view, unguarded. Mantel described how she used her finger and thumb to form a gun.  ‘Immediately your eye measures the distance, I thought, “if I wasn’t me, if I was someone else, she’d be dead”.

Hilary Mantel never had any warm feelings toward the Iron Lady, and it shows in her writing.

I thought, there’s not a tear in her… Not for the mother in the rain at the bus stop, or the sailor burning in the sea. She sleeps four hours a night. She lives on the fumes of whisky and the iron in the blood of her prey.

In an interview with The Guardian, she said Baroness Thatcher was an anti-feminist and ‘psychological transvestite’, who did ‘long-standing damage’ to the country.

Critics and readers alike agree that the remove between the story’s protagonist and the author in this narrative is all but disappears.

When asked about the backlash on BBC Radio Mantel said:

I think it would be unconscionable to say this is too dark we can’t examine it. We can’t be running away from history. We have to face it head on, because the repercussions of Mrs Thatcher’s reign have fed the nation. It is still resonating.

The writer admits that the former Prime Minister was a ‘fantastic’ character to write about about and that ‘as a citizen, I suffered from her but as a writer, I benefited.’

“I smell blood and an era of prominent madmen.” ― W.H. Auden

On this day, September 29th, in 1973,  W.H. Auden has diedWystan Hugh Auden was an Anglo-American poet and one of the leading literary figures of the 20th century, best known for The Age of Anxiety  which won him the Pulitzer Prize.

W. H. Auden

Born: February 21, 1907, York, England Died: September 28, 1973, Vienna, Austria

In 1935, Auden married Erika Mann, the daughter of the German novelist Thomas Mann. It was a marriage of convenience to enable her to gain British citizenship and escape Nazi Germany – Auden was himself homosexual.

Auden’s political sympathies inspired him to go to Spain in 1937 to observe the Spanish Civil War. In 1939, Auden and Isherwood emigrated to the United States. This was a controversial move, regarded by some as a flight from danger on the eve of war in Europe. In New York, Auden met poet Chester Kallman who would be his companion for the rest of his life. Auden taught at a number of American universities and, in 1946, took US citizenship.

The poet as a young man… WH Auden in London in January 1938, 18 months before the recently unearthed diary was started. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

The poet as a young man… WH Auden in London in January 1938, 18 months before the recently unearthed diary was started. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty

He continued to publish poetry including his Pulitzer Prize winning ‘The Age of Anxiety’ (1947)  He collaborated with Kallman on the libretto for Stravinsky’s opera ‘The Rake’s Progress’ (1951). From 1956 to 1961 he was professor of poetry at Oxford University.

Such a beautiful evening and in an hour, they say, England will be at war.” (WH Auden,  September 1, 1939. An unpublished diary that sheds light on the composition of one of his most famous poems.)

The journal was one of just three kept by the British poet. It had been in private hands since Auden’s death in 1973, but was recently unearthed and sold earlier this month at Christie’s in London to the British Library.Christie’s called it “the most substantial and significant Auden manuscript to have been offered at auction“, and said it offered “an incomparable insight into the poet’s activities and reflections at the turning point in his life”.

War declared this morning… a page from the journal. Photograph: Christie's/PA

War declared this morning… a page from the journal. Photograph: Christie’s/PA

The journal records Auden’s thoughts on topics from women (“My hatred of women is such that if I am not afraid of them … I am cruel“) to politics. “The problem for a democracy is how to get rid of the pitiful vanities of partisan talk and voting and the corruption of party machines without silencing opposition criticism,” he muses.

That unmistakable voice: grey, shambling and covered in ash, Auden the man found it was the effect of his words that mattered. Photo: Jerry Cooke/Corbis

That unmistakable voice: grey, shambling and covered in ash, Auden the man found it was the effect of his words that mattered.
Photo: Jerry Cooke/Corbis

Among Auden’s highly regarded skills was the ability to think in terms of both symbols and reality at the same time, so that intellectual ideas were transformed. He rooted ideas through creatures of his imagining for whom the reader could often feel affection while appreciating the stern and cold outline of the ideas themselves.

He nearly always used language that was interesting in texture as well as brilliant verbally. He employed a great variety of intricate and extremely difficult technical forms. Throughout his career he often wrote pure lyrics of grave beauty, such as “Lay Your Sleeping Head, My Love” and “Look Stranger.”

In 1972, with his health declining, Auden left America. He moved to live in Oxford, in a cottage belonging to his old college, Christ Church. In the late 1950s, Auden had bought a house in Austria, where he spent six months of every year. He died in Austria on 29 September 1973.

The multivolume Complete Works of W. H. Auden was published in 1989. Auden is now considered one of the greatest poets of the English language.
свеча“Let me see what I wrote so I know what I think”

― W.H. Auden

“I will love you forever” swears the poet. I find this easy to swear too. “I will love you at 4:15 pm next Tuesday” – Is that still as easy?”
― W.H. Auden

“All we are not stares back at what we are.”
― W.H. Auden

“I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.”
― W.H. AudenCollected Poems

“We would rather be ruined than changed. We would rather die in our dread than climb the cross of the moment and let our illusions die.”
― W.H. Auden

What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish.”
― W.H. AudenThe Dyer’s Hand

“Let all your thinks be thanks.”
― W.H. Auden

“There is a great deal of difference in believing something still, and believing it again.”
― W.H. Auden

Desire, even in its wildest tantrums, can neither persuade me it is love nor stop me from wishing it were.”
― W.H. Auden

“A real book is not one that we read, but one that reads us. ”
― W.H. Auden

“Thank God for books as an alternative to conversation.”
― W.H. Auden

будъ свечей“Those who will not reason, perish in the act. Those who will not act, perish for that reason.”
― W.H. Auden

“Drama is based on the Mistake.”
― W.H. AudenThe Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume III, 1949-1955

“We are all here on earth to help others: what on earth the others are here for, I don’t know.”
― W.H. Auden

“Words have no word for words that are not true.
― W.H. Auden

“Music is the best means we have of digesting time.”
― W.H. Auden

“The surest sign that a man has a genuine taste of his own is that he is uncertain of it.”
― W.H. AudenThe Dyer’s Hand

Leo Tolstoy At War And Piece With Himself

t99A GIANT AND PYGMIES: LEO TOLSTOY AND CONTEMPORARY WRITERS, says the caption under this old caricature by unknown artist. Only a few minutes ago Google stopped to remind me of Leo Tolstoy’s 186 birthday: the author of War and Piece and Anna Karenina was born September 9,1828.


Leo Tolstoy enjoyed what would ordinarily be considered an extremely successful and comfortable life. By the end of it, however, he was plagued by a feeling that each individual act he undertook, and the totality of his life, were completely devoid of meaning. His life felt like a “stupid, mean trick played on me by somebody.”

Meaninglessness of life and a kind of intellectual crisis he found himself at the dawn of his life, and how he struggled with these issues and — so he thought — recovered from it is at the heart of his short and powerful essay A Confession.

Art, too, lost its lure and significance for the writer. Art is insignificant because life is, for art is a reflection of life in one form or another. At the very best, Tolstoy notes, art provides empirical description of human life and even its content, but it is unable to explain what, in anything, is the meaning of life.


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Only one of the photographs in the gallery above is slightly photoshopped. Which one?

In A Confession, Tolstoy confides that after long observation, he came to believe that faith alone could provide meaning to human life. The great majority of people do not agonize over meaninglessness of their lives, although great many live in extremely dismal circumstances. What these people have in common?

Tolstoy thinks, it is their faith. Faith alone fills human existence with purpose and value. Tolstoy — for most of his life — believed faith is in constant conflict with reason. Still, he came to believe that faith was the ultimate answer to the questions that so wholly consumed him. In the end, he seemed to have embraced it.



Writers Hate Writers


In 1971 Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal just before a recording of the Dick Cavett Show (both were invited guests), because Vidal gave a bad review to “The Prisoner of Love” published earlier in the year. The on-screen exchange is a classic of television invective.

Vidal smartly forgave Mailer in a not so many words:

“Yet of all my contemporaries I retain the greatest affection for Norman as a force and as an artist. He is a man whose faults, though many, add to rather than subtract from the sum of his natural achievements.”

Martin Amis once described Mailer as “this pampered super-brat.”

Mark Twain hated Jane Austen:

“Every time I read ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

But then again, Mark Twain held many greats in little regard, including the Great Bard:

“With the single exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare…”

William Faulkner, on the other hand, had this to say about Twain:

“A hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven sure fire literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.

Ernest Hemingway, according to Vladimir Nabokov: 

 “As to Hemingway, I read him for the first time in the early ‘forties, something about bells, balls and bulls, and loathed it.”

Jan Diehm created a curious and entertaining interactive infographic for The Huffington Post, showing which ones of the famous writers had to gird their loins against the barbs and arrows of which other famous writers.

Most of the remarks are gloriously witty, truly worthy of the great talents that put hand to paper. 

Follow the link WAY HARSH. Famous Authors Who Hated Each Other’s Writing (Infographic) to a full screen interactive version.




Writers Behaving Badly: Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith

For me, the name ‘Patricia Highsmith’ designates a sacred territory: she is the One whose place among writers is that which Spinoza held for Gilles Deleuze (a ‘Christ among philosophers’). (Slavoj Žižek)

Patricia Highsmith Key Facts

From an early age, she drank hard, fell in and out of love with various women (and one or two men), and rather quickly came to understand her own severe and private nature. Far more than Tom Ripley, she fits that Lawrentian description of being hard, isolate, and stoic, especially in her later years. (Michael Dirda)

Patricia Highsmith was clearly out of control for parts of her life - a life spent largely in France, in Suffolk and in Switzerland. She drank hugely; she ranted; she made wild gestures -- setting her hair on fire at a supper party.

Patricia Highsmith was clearly out of control for parts of her life – a life spent largely in France, in Suffolk and in Switzerland. She drank hugely; she ranted; she made wild gestures — setting her hair on fire at a supper party.

But she was certainly in full control of her demons when she wrote.

The sheer variety of the films based on her Ripley novels is a testament to it: the cool psychopath has been represented by actors as different as Alain Delon, Matt Damon and now John Malkovich.

The sheer variety of the films based on Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels is a testament to her originality: the cool psychopath has been represented by actors as different as Alain Delon, Matt Damon and John Malkovich.

Patricia Highsmith’s most famous character,  Tom Ripley, is charming, epicurean, good friend and exemplary husband. He is aesthete, too. He never kills for thrill, only out of necessity. Life is like this — it’s often an absolute necessity to bludgeon or strangle a few people now and again. Eight, to be precise. And he isn’t amused observing two others drown.

Tom Ripley cares about people, all right. Still, cruel circumstances make him orchestrate rather serviceable suicides of three of his friends. He actually cared for those three. Remorse? If it ever was any, it, too, has passed.

Isn’t it rather odd that he doesn’t keep count of his victims? After all, he was merely defending himself, his family, his home, his business…

Not people but animals — snails especially — were her preferred company. Once, she took 100 snails (give and take a few) to a party, in her handbag  –simply to have  someone to talk to. She kept them as pets, and some three hundred of them flew with her from New York to Paris, Rome, and Venice in cheese cartons. She “produced snails from her handbag and encouraged them to leave sticky trails all over her host’s tabletop.” It was a severe case of “snail envy.”


In the novel Deep Water, Vic is the the keeper of aquaria. He has over a thousand snails, most of them the progeny of Edgar and Hortense, a superbly prolific mating pair. Patricia’s favorite snail was named Hortense.

“The Quest for Blank Claveringi” features Professor Avery Claveringi. He leaves his position at California university, embarking on a quest to find a giant snail species yet undiscovered.  He finds it, all right. The creature is gigantic, indeed, at about fifteen-foot, its “silvery patches gleam and twinkle as the great thing stirred.”highsmith_1-001

Professor Claveringi runs out of luck when snails chase after him. Now what? There are but two excellent choices — to drown or to become a tasty morsel in the creature’s lunch…

Perverse and misanthropic woman, Patricia Highsmith was a singularly talented writer. Her characters could be warped,  creepy and amoral beyond measure, but she lets the reader so close to them that, face to face, we cannot help but follow them wherever they go.



100 Years Of Bestsellers

reading1In February of last year, Matthew Kahn, a creative writing student at California State University at Northridge, began to implement a singularly trying but interesting project on his blog: to read 100 years of No. 1 bestsellers, from 1913 to 2013, and post reviews.  

For this blog I plan, among other things, to read and review every novel to reach the number one spot on Publishers Weekly annual bestsellers list, starting in 1913.  Beyond just a book review, I’m going to provide some information on the authors and the time at which these books were written in an attempt to figure out just what made these particular books popular at that particular time.

I decided to undertake this endeavor as a mission to read books I never would have otherwise read, discover authors who have been lost to obscurity, and to see how what’s popular has changed over the last one hundred years.  I plan to post a new review every Monday, with links, short essays, and the like between review posts. (Matthew Kahn)

‘Hyperlinked” titles in the list are those Mr. Kahn read and reviewed.  The others are still waiting to be reviewed:

* Books that appear multiple times will be condensed into one post. The review of The Robe, the only book to reach number one on two inconsecutive years (1943 and 1953) will be published under the earlier date.
** Publishers Weekly did not include the Harry Potter books in its listings.  Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix was the bestselling book for 2003, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was the bestselling book of 2007.  I have decided to go with the official PW list.  This is not due to any bias against Harry Potter (I have fond memories of waiting in line for the midnight release of the final book).  By not counting Harry, I add The Da Vinci Code and A Thousand Splendid Suns to the list.  The Da Vinci Code already appears for 2004.  A Thousand Splendid Suns has a lot less notoriety than Harry Potter, so is more in tune with mission.

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Laura Miller, a literary critic of the Salon, interviewed Mr. Kahn. Answering her questions, Mr. Kahn shared his opinion about the books on the list he “covered” already, named his most and least favorite authors and titles and, prompted by Ms. Miller, reflected on some of the larger topics, such as his impressions  about the book business over the past 100 years and its prevailing tendencies. 

One thing about the massive shift in the 1960s is that it’s partly about a changing perspective on books. They’re more seen as a part of the entertainment industry. In the first half of this list, there are about 10 years where the bestseller was also a Pulitzer Prize winner. There were a few years where the bestseller was written by a Nobel Prize winner. With Allen Drury’s “Advise and Consent,” in 1960, that was the last time either of those things were true. It’s the last book on the list to win the Pulitzer Prize.

The title of Laura Miller’s article is somewhat misleading: Lessons from Stephen King and “Valley of the Dolls”: Reading 100 years of bestsellers. Stephen King is barely mentioned in the article, except in the list of bestsellers and when Mathew Kahn says:

I know that around the beginning of 1960 there’s a massive shift toward genre fiction — Le Carré, Stephen King, even Tolkien one year — and away from things like coming-of-age stories. So it’s not going to all be the same…

The image Ms. Miller has chosen for her article makes up for this mishap — this is by far the most expressive picture of Stephen King I’ve seen so far. He looks as if he’d just been asked, “Mister King, what makes a book a bestseller?”

Stephen King. Credit: AP/ Francois Mori

Stephen King. Credit: AP/ Francois Mori

The tagline, however, is true to the meat of the article: What the most popular books of the past century taught one writer about America’s strange taste in fiction.  Read the article here, and follow the link to Matthew’s blog Kahn’s Corner. 



From Heaven To Hell

Five centuries separates legendary Italian poet Dante (c. 1265–1321) and  celebrated poet and painter William Blake (1757–1827).

BLAKEIn 1826, William Blake was 65 and in poor health. That year he received a commission to illustrate Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Blake started the project with great enthusiasm — his worldview resonated with Dante’s rejection of materialism and contempt of the way power corrupts humanity and morality.

Fate, however, was unkind to William Blake. He died months later, befallen by gallbladder illness, while the project was far from completion. Blake worked on the project, quite literary, on his dying day and produced 102 drawings. Some paintings were merely sketches while others — fully developed watercolors.


The Divine Comedy drawings were never published. Eventually, in 1918, after many travails and changing hands, the paintings were sold at an auction and ended up scattered across galleries in UK, Australia and the United States.blake

All 102 plates were collected in a fabulous volume William Blake’s Divine Comedy Illustrations.





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Salvador Dalí, illustrated several works of classical literature: Don Quixote in 1946, the essays of Montaigne in 1947, Alice in Wonderland in 1969, and Romeo and Juliet in 1975.

In 1957, Dalí was at the height of his fame. More than a century after William Blake had done the same,  Salvador Dalí began working on a series of 100 paintings based on The Divine Comedy. The project was commissioned by the Italian government.


Dalí agreed to complete the artwork in eight years. Then, according to a plan, it should have been released as limited-edition prints dedicated to the 700th anniversary of Dante’s birth.

What was to follow alarmed and amazed the art and literary world: the Italian government pulled out of the project. It reacted to the public outcry — Italians were unhappy that the legacy of their national treasure, Dante Alighieri, had been entrusted to a Spaniard. Defiant, Dalí continued the project on his own. The series was completed in 1964.


Two engravers spent five years hand-carving 3,500 wooden blocks to be used for reproductions of Dalí’s paintings.

The series was never published as an official English edition of the classic book, much to a great disappointment of everyone who expected for a book arrival. The reproductions of the individual paintings can still be purchased online — often for outrageous prices — and found in an obscure out-of-print book released by the Park West Gallery in 1993.

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Salvador And Alice

Dali with cats. Photographer Philippe Halsman. (No photoshop)

Dali with cats. Photographer Philippe Halsman. (No photoshop)

In 1969,  Book of the Month Club gave its readers a gift of purchasing   Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll illustrated by Salvador Dali. The artist wholeheartedly approved the book and its publication. Have you seen it before? I haven’t.

With the original gouaches published by Maecenas Press-Random House, New York in 1969, the suite now contains 12 heliogravures — one for each chapter of the book — and comes with 1 original signed etching in 4 colors as the frontpiece.

And yes, the Mad Tea Party has melted clock in it.

I love Dali. I admire his talent and a great number of his paintings. I am and forever will be baffled by Alice and her adventures. However, I don’t particularly like the suite of Dali’s illustrations of Alice, and I have a courage to confess it. My suspicion is that these works were rather accidental, done either in jest or in a hurry. Perhaps, even Dali was surprised that these works were taken seriously…

On the other hand, maybe I’m simply incapable of becoming anyone artist’s “devout fan”. Devotion requires unconditional, unrequited, blind adoration. Everything goes: artist’s work, artist’s belongings (underwear is the best, I hear), artist’s “excretions” of any kind — social media is the great depository, too bad Dali didn’t live to experience it.

I‘ll stop blabbering. If you haven’t seen the illustrations, here they are. If you’ve seen them and liked them, then enjoy them again. Or don’t…


Alice’s Evidence

Run around

The Pool of Tears

Tea party

Mad Tea Party. Noticed the “melted clock”?

Advice From a Caterpillar

Advice From a Caterpillar


A Caucus Race and a Long Tale

Down the rabbit hole

Down the Rabbit Hole


The Lobster’s Quadrille

Royal Croquette

The Queen’s Croquet Ground.

Who stole?

Who Stole the Tarts?


Pig and Pepper


The Mock Turtle’s Story


The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill

Book Cover

Alice Frontispiece

To Be Or Not To Be That Is The Game

Plebs needed teeth cleaned. Plebs went to a dentist…

A funny thing can happen in the dental office while you are waiting, particularly if your smartphone looses its marbles. You settle down, pick up an old magazine from the rack and travel back in time.

You observe a visage of Kim Kardashian with Kanye West to the east of her, and baby North still inside her, to the south of her navel. And you marvel at life’s miracles.

Seriously, there is a lot of accidental knowledge that comes to us directly from the old magazines on the coffee tables in dental offices.

My latest find is an old issue of the  TIME Magazine, dated ThursdayAug. 08, 2013. The article was Hello, Sweet Prince. Hamlet is reborn as a Choose Your Own Adventure, by Lev Grossman. 

times page

Much scholarly commentary has been expended on Shakespeare’s Hamlet, maybe more than on any other play in the English language, but I don’t think it’s ever been said of Hamlet that it would make a good Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Nevertheless: that was the pitch that a 32-year-old Canadian writer named Ryan North made last November on Kickstarter. North figured it would take about $20,000 to produce To Be or Not to Be: That Is the Adventure. The Internet disagreed. It gave him $580,905.

The Internet chose wisely… (– from the TIME Magazine article)2014-02-11_13-57-58_334

Teeth cleaned to gleaming shine, I found out that the book, To Be or Not To Be by  Ryan North is being published already, to great accolades from everywhere.

To Be or Not To Be is a choose-your-own-path version of Hamlet by New York Times best-selling author Ryan North. Play as Hamlet, Ophelia, or King Hamlet—if you want to die on the first page and play as a ghost. It’s pretty awesome! Readers can follow Yorick skull markers to stick closely to Shakespeare‘s plot, or go off-script and explore alternative possibilities filled with puzzles and humor. (-–Amazon)

To Be Or Not

I also checked the KICKSTARTER page, where  Ryan North makes an excellent pitch of his book. The hyperlink To Be Or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure will take you there. Below and on the KICKSTARTER page, you can indulge in viewing a promotional video, starring the author.

And no, I don’t have a book yet. Am I planning to travel Shakespearean landscape, following Yorick skull markers? I donno... Should you do it ahead of me — lemmeno.