Becky Clark

The Secret Lives of Great Authors

*secret-livesI read this captivating book a while back. Entertaining, fun, and possibly educational, but I didn’t let that stop me.

“Secret Lives of Great Authors” by Robert Schnakenberg is a compilation of outrageous profiles of all the greats — Shakespeare, the Bronte gals, Twain, Fitzgerald, Carson McCullers, Toni Morrison, Thomas Pynchon, and many more.

The first page of each profile includes birth and death dates, nationality, astrological sign, a list of major works, contemporaries and rivals, the author’s literary style, and a quote from them.

James Joyce: “The only demand I make of my reader is that he devote his whole life to reading my works.”

William Burroughs: “In the U.S., you have to be a deviant or die of boredom.”

JD Salinger: “There is a marvelous peace in not publishing.”

Sylvia Plath: “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Schnakenberg dishes up stories that run the gamut from bawdy… to snorting-coffee-out-your-nose funny… to sad … to informative — and I hadn’t heard most of them! I didn’t check Snopes about any of them either, mainly because I want them all to be true.

Some things we can learn from.

Edgar Allan Poe earned almost nothing from writing The Raven because he was so eager to get it into print he published it in the newspaper, thus getting no copyright protection. Everyone else reprinted it and made money from it. He never did.

Charlotte Bronte was trying to sell her novel The Professor, but it was rejected. A lot. Each time it was returned to her, she sent it back out without removing the rejection letter. Eventually it was circulating with all the rejections piled on top. It was eventually published, though … posthumously.

Henry David Thoreau’s book A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers barely sold in his lifetime. His publisher wanted to get rid of all the copies piling up so Thoreau took 706 remainders, saying, “I now have a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself.”

There’s a highly entertaining appendix of rejections received by famous authors. It was one of the few books I was sad to finish. Not one boring word in it. Not even “and” or “the.”

I could go on and on — no, really! — but you’ll have to pick up a copy for yourself to find out why Oscar Wilde’s teeth were so nasty, why Agatha Christie needed help with all her manuscripts, all the dirt on Charles Dickens’ OCD, and what happened to Walt Whitman’s brain.

Schnakenberg has written several other books, one of which I can’t wait to read — “Distory: A Treasury of Historical Insults.”

Oh, my. Let the smack down begin.

Do you have any great insults to tide me over until I can get my hands on a copy? Or any hot historical gossip about writers?

35 thoughts on “The Secret Lives of Great Authors

  1. I like it. Going into my TBRs. As far as insults go, I’ve always liked “in the great pinball game of life, his/her flippers were just a little too far apart.”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I didn’t even know they did remainders in Thoreau’s day. Like, did the publishers have overstuffed warehouses somewhere? That is really sad.


  3. After the book of insults, you should try “Around the World in 80 Cliches,” which is a book of idioms from other languages. Like, in India when you are annoying someone, they might say “Stop climbing on my head!” Makes at least as much sense as us saying “You’re pulling my leg!” when we doubt someone.

    Liked by 1 person

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