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The only new, unpublished story in Hilary Mantel’s new book is its  titular short story, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: August 6th 1983.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

Memento Mori

Memento Mori

Alarm clock, mounted on model of coffin, probably English, 1840-1900

Death before modern times was a common thing. Epidemics and disease destroyed entire cities and decimated population. Skulls, bones and dead bodies, arguably, were the commonest things people were exposed to during their lifetime.

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800

Wax model of a decomposing body in a walnut coffin, Italy, 1774-1800.

Thus, centuries ago, the attitude toward death and images of skulls was quite different. Everyone was afraid of the Great Ripper, but people believed in the afterlife, in one form or another and, in the bustle of their mundane life, nothing reminded them of Death and upcoming thereafter than images of skulls.


Cripta Cappuccini

Noi eravamo quello che voi siete, e quello che noi siamo voi sarete.“We were what you are; and what we are, you will be,” speak the skulls of the Capuchin brothers in the catacombs, anterooms and subterranean chapels beneath the church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome. Disassembled bones, skulls and teeth of the departed Capuchins have been arranged to form a rich Baroque architecture of the human condition set in bones:

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d'Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d'Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Monument funéraire de Jean de Sachy (1er échevin d’Amiens, mort en 1644) et de Marie de Revelois (morte en 1662), oeuvre de Nicolas Blasset, dans la cathédrale d’Amiens.Détail: la Mort

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

Memento Mori (Death comes to the dinner table), de Giovanni Martinelli (vers 1635). Huile sur toile (114,2 x 158 cm). Galerie G. Sarti, Paris.

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

German master c. 1620, Vanitas Still Life with Skull, Wax Jack and Pocket Sundial, Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main

WLANL - mennofokke - Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

WLANL – mennofokke – Vanitas, Adriaan Coorte, Middelburg, 1688

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D. Inv. No. 109982. Naples, National Archaeological Museum.

“Memento mori”. Mosaic from Pompeii (House cum workshop I, 5, 2, triclinium). 30 B.C. — 14 A.D.
Naples, National Archaeological Museum. Symbolism of chance (Fortuna’s wheel) divine justice (right angle and plumb-bob) and mortality.

Variety of depictions of skulls decorated the interiors of palatial houses, and, in itself, were considered absolutely normal and even fashionable, from the 16th until the 20th century.

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And this is a contemporary artifact:cocaine skull

A life-size human skull is a contemporary artwork, entitled Ecce Animal. It is  sculpted by Dutch artist Diddy. Notice a certain illicit white substance crumbling from the base of the piece. This is — of all things — a concoction of gelatin and cocaine. The author did not check the quality of the drug, but laboratory tests showed that the purity of it is about 20%. Due to a binding non-disclosure agreement with the work’s patron, Diddo is unable to reveal any details regarding the work’s price or worth. Was the artist fascinated with Death or cocaine?


Plagiarism: How To Make Her Story Yours

plagiatFirst, let me plagiarize a few passages about plagiarism and make it sound fresh and original — in a word, MINE.

I’ll take a phrase “Plagiarism is a species of intellectual fraud that an author claims is original but has been copied from another source without permission or acknowledgment, thus deceiving and harming the reader.” Never mind the source. In the best tradition of true plagiarism, no attribution is forthcoming. Here I go: Plagiarism is a fraud. In its most blatant form, plagiarism is nothing less than a theft of intellectual property. Have I plagiarized the original? Actually, no.  Although I lifted an idea from the source (plagiarism is theft), I hardly used the source verbatim. No copy-pasting here.


My bad. Let me try again. The original: Plagiarism is apparently so rife these days that it would not be surprising to discover that “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has itself been plagiarized. Plagiarized version: These days, plagiarism is so rife that I wouldn’t be surprised if “The Little Book of Plagiarism,” by Richard A. Posner, has been plagiarized from some obscure blog buried in the backwaters of internet and show up on page 834,756 of Google search results.”

That’s better. Fresh and original, isn’t it? This time around, I used some of the verbiage of the source on top of copy-pasted original, which may or may not be plagiarized itself — one never knows unless one checks.

Creating this example, I march in step with the greats (and not-so-greats): Shakespeare stole the plot of Romeo and Juliet, Manet’s Olympia is a reworking of Titian’s Venus d’Urbino, Kaavya Viswanathan novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life  is lifted from Megan McCafferty, and numerous excerpts from Cassie Edwards’ novels generously borrowed from magazines and nonfiction books.


So? Writers of any genre, academics, bloggers, politicians, students and almost anyone who uses and publishes words — nearly everyone who writes, lectures and/or speaks — plagiarize sometimes. Those who don’t plagiarize like to have fun parsing published sentences, mining for word thieves. It’s easy — there is a software to do it, such as turnitin, widely used to detect heavy borrowing in student papers.

Is plagiarism a crime? Many authors who found themselves victims of thievery say a resounding yes.

Not so fast, says Richard A. Posner, a judge on the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, expert on intellectual property, author of The Little Book of Plagiarism, mentioned above. Posner’s assessment of plagiarism is that it is an “embarrassingly second-rate” offense, “its practitioners… pathetic,” and that plagiarism should remain an ethical rather than a legal offense, punished by public shaming.  He dismisses the idea that good art must be totally original. Plagiarism? Wrong term, he says, although not in the same words, but I am done plagiarizing. Creative imitation is a more appropriate name for the phenomenon in question, says Posner.

Years ago, Ian McEwan was harshly criticized for filching details from another book in his 2002 bestseller Atonement. Thomas Pynchon (Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day) has defended McEwan in a letter to Britain’s Daily Telegraph, saying that if the writers of historical fiction were not present at the events described in their novels, they “must turn to those who were.” Richard A. Posner would’ve agreed — all power to creative imitation.


And now, a recent case in point. In August of this year, a Utah author, Rachel Ann Nunes of Orem, filed a federal lawsuit claiming that a Layton teacher, Tiffanie Rushton, cut and pasted large sections from an electronic copy of her book, plagiarizing her Christian romance novel, adding graphic sex scenes, and then passed it off as her own.

Nunes’ book Love to the Highest Bidder, published in 1998, came out as a slightly revised e-book, A Bid for Love, recently, is about two art dealers, one from New York and the other from California, who meet while competing for an Indian Buddha statue and fall in love.

Rushton’s manuscript, The Auction Deal, is about an art dealer who goes to Beverly Hills to bid on a rare sculpture and meets a successful gallery owner from Chicago. A true fit of creative imagination.

Here is an example from the case:

Nunes, the “source”, a sample line from chapter one: “For six years, he had put up with her overt stares and innuendos because she was not only his boss and sole owner of the gallery but also his friend.”

Rushton (writing under the pen name Sam Taylor Mullens), from chapter one: “For ten years, I’d tolerated her overt stares and innuendos because she was part owner of our gallery and always seemed to find opportunities with new clients that helped the gallery that I could not.”

Use your creative imagination, change names of characters and places (use replace all), infuse lots of graphic sex, then some more sex (it makes readers’ skirts fly up) and voila! — her book is your book. The niche Christian story Nunes wrote is recast into a sizzling book by Ms. Rushton with mass appeal (good Christians might read it under the blankets).

The case, Nunes hopes, would expose plagiarism as a plague of online self-publishing. It is unknown to what degree Ms. Nunes’ decision to pursue this matter was influenced by Ms. Rushton’s bizarre behavior — an unprecedented barrage of cyber-bulling. Speak of ethical rather than a legal offense! If interested in further details of this incident, read  UTAH SCHOOL TEACHER CHARGED WITH PLAGIARISM, CYBER-BULLYING.




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.




Cliché? Cliché!

Cliché Personified

Cliché Personified

“It’s Been Said Before: A Guide to the Use and Abuse of Cliches” by Orin Hargraves. The book, author hopes, turned up hundreds of interesting facts about what people do with clichés. And it did.

It's been saidAuthor acknowledges that such an effort would’ve been much less productive if not for Sketch Engine, the software package developed by Adam Kilgarriff for querying corpora. Corpora is plural of corpus. And a corpus is a collection of natural language in machine-readable form, assembled for the purpose of linguistic research.Clichés6

Lexicographers and other language researchers have it much easier than ever before to study languages.Clichés7

In looking at language for the purpose of studying clichés, corpora have given me an excellent tool for determining how often, and in what contexts, a particular phrase or form of words is used. This makes it very easy to put to the test the question of whether a given way of expressing something may be, in fact, “overused.” While there can be no level of frequency that officially constitutes overuse of a word or phrase, statistics are very revealing about how often words are used in particular groupings.Clichés2

Working with a corpus it is possible, with a few keystrokes, to call up a dozen or a hundred or a thousand instances of a word or a phrase in the context of actual speech or writing. Other items in the lexicographic toolbox provide statistics on the frequency of words and phrases in relation to other words, or as a percentage of English generally.Clichés91

From these statistics emerge portraits of the life of words, their mating habits, their abuses, their triumphs and failings, in a much clearer and more comprehensive light than can be gleaned from casual reading or listening; it is a portrait that is far more dependable than the one that results from merely consulting your intuition about how often a form of words is used or whether people use it consistently, aptly, or inappropriately.<a
Images courtesy of href=””&gt;Clichés5

Should writer or speaker avoid using clichés all the time? The author’s answer is no. Readers and listening audiences need certain degree of familiarity, recognition and patterns. Not every expression should necessarily be 100% fresh and new, just like a meal cannot and souldn’t consist entirely of new and unfamiliar ingredients. Clichés9

Clichés, like the poor, will always be among us; but like the poor, their constant presence is not a justification for ignoring them, and their constant presence should not lead to the conclusion that they are intractable.Clichés4

Today, readers and listeners are probably subject to more clichés than ever before: we have the opportunity, if we wish to seize it, of listening to an unending stream of unedited chatter on television, radio, and online, much of which consists almost entirely of clichés, variously divided and reassembled.Clichés3


It’s a good book, all right. Author’s advise?

The best way to free your speech and writing of unneeded and detrimental clichés is to construct it thoughtfully, paying close attention to the common tendency to insert a ready form of words in a place where it easily fits.Clichés8

Nothing new under the stars… Is it a cliché?Clichés92Images in this post — courtesy of




hwæt: now, indeed; what; what!, listen!, hark!, lo!

Hwæt wē Gār-Dena in geār-dagum
þēod-cyninga þrym gefrūnon,
hū ðā æþelingas ellen fremedon.

Lo! the glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in
days of old we have heard tell, how those princes did deeds
of valor…

J R R Tolkien would’ve been astonished to survey our literary landscape. It changed beyond recognition in the four decades since his passing. He is certainly gained in popularity posthumously and is more famous around the world now than his beloved Old English “fairy stories” were at the time when he taught at Oxford.

Even writings he never intended for publishing became published books. Beowulf  is one of such books.

"Tolkien-as-guide is delightful, an irresistibly chatty schoolmaster in the Chaucerian mold . . . His learning and Beowulf's patterns of gloom and fragile light feel intimately related . . . his noble translation joins the ranks of the narrowly saved." - Slate

“Tolkien-as-guide is delightful, an irresistibly chatty schoolmaster in the Chaucerian mold . . . His learning and Beowulf’s patterns of gloom and fragile light feel intimately related . . . his noble translation joins the ranks of the narrowly saved.” – Slate

While Tolkien’s true fans happy to welcome Beowulf — and anything that he ever wrote with or without intention of publishing — some Tolkien scholars aren’t all that happy.

Disservise to Tolkien

Why Tolkien hated his translation of Beowulf? asks Kevin Kiernan (Conversation UK.)

After all, it was Tolkien who denigrated his translation, calling it an “abuse” and “hardly to my liking”. He left it behind and forgot about it. How does its unauthorised publication serve Tolkien’s reputation? It was with his own remarks in mind that I said in a recent interview for the New York Times that “publishing the translation is a disservice to him, to his memory and his achievement as an artist”. His own assessment suggests he would have destroyed it, if he imagined anyone might publish it with selections from his undergraduate lecture notes.

In his story “Leaf by Niggle”, J R R Tolkien wrote about an artist who is painting a picture of a leave caught in the wind. He deems it forever incomplete but cannot abandon his work.

LiaveThere was once a little man called Niggle, who had a long journey to make. He did not want to go, indeed the whole idea was distasteful to him; but he could not get out of it. He knew he would have to start some time, but he did not hurry with his preparations…

…Niggle was a painter. Not a very successful one, partly because he had many other things to do…

…There was one picture in particular which bothered him. It had begun with a leaf caught in the wind, and it became a tree; and the tree grew, sending out innumerable branches, and thrusting out the most fantastic roots.

Some suggest that the artist and the painting in this story are keen metaphors for Tolkien and his translation of Beowulf.

Others painstakingly take the Tolkien’s prose apart and compare the merit of his translation to the poetic verses of  Seamus  Heaney’s Beowulf.

The great Irish bard, the recipient of the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, Seamus Heaney died less than a year ago. Everyone who’s playing the “who has done it better” game wonder what Seamus would have said about Tolkien’s Beowulf and Tolkien’s son Christopher who made it all possible.


But never mind that. When was the last time a controversy was bad for publicity and marketing?

Besides, shouldn’t it has been for the Lord of the Ring franchise, how many people would have read Beowulf for sheer enjoyment of Old English lore?

How many people can recite a verse or two of Heaney’s Beowulf ? I certainly can’t. But my excuse is better than yours.



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.





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. 




Kurt Vonnegut. A Lesson In Creative Writing

Well, it looks like my yesterday’s post didn’t sit well with some of my admirers. Perhaps, they don’t like cats. Or they don’t care about Russian Kitty Day. Or they feel that adorable/smart/sick/cross-eyed/limb-challenged/impossibly cute/talented felines overpopulate internet as is, and I should be the last person to infiltrate this domain.

Igor Ivanov. Still life with chain-sticks.

Igor Ivanov. Still life with chain-sticks.

With that, I retreat to a more familiar territory — Memento Mori, Ars Longa while Vita est incredibly brevis, new frontiers of populorum scientia et cetera.

All right then. No more meowing against the wind. I’ll just re-post my own blog entry from TFW.  If you don’t need a lesson in creative writing, you might want to have an infusion of good humor entirely devoid of feline cuteness. After all, it’s Kurt Vonnegut giving a lesson…


Kurt Vonnegut. American writer celebrated for his books, his style, his humanity, his sense of irony.

Lapham’s Quarterly published excerpts from Vonnegut’s Here is a lesson in creative writing, a parody of literary seminar. It’s at once hilarious and highly educational. If you are a writer and haven’t read it, then you should. “Visual aid” graphics are provided by the writer himself.

“If you want to really hurt you parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable.

Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.” ― Kurt VonnegutA Man Without a Country


On September 13, 2005, Jon Stewart invited Kurt Vonnegut to The Daily Show. The interview is remarkable in many ways. For one thing, curiously, Kurt Vonnegut believes that the planet’s immune system is trying to get rid of humans, and, in Vonnegut’s opinion, it probably should.  Watch the interview here.