Friday, November 30, 2012

Test your knowledge of literary tidbits

When last we convened, fearless reader Gioconda expressed interest in the book Curiosities of Literature, so here are some gleanings from it to whet your appetites.
    •    During WWII, more than 1,300 pocket-sized Armed Services Editions (ASEs) of an array of novels were published for as little as ten cents each and distributed to the troops. Choices ranged from Mark Twain to Zane Grey to Virginia Woolf (highly collectible). The most popular title? A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I'm thinking Edna St. Vincent Millay, not so much.
    •    Poet Amy Lowell (a woman of means) rented five rooms in any hotel she stayed at to create quiet above, below, and on both sides (and I thought I was noise averse!! Too bad they didn't have noise-cancelling earphones; she could have been listening to some Mozart and all would have been well with the world).
    •    The shortest poem in the English language is purported to be "Fleas": Adam / Had 'em.
    •    The Brontë family patriarch Patrick was actually born a Prunty, in County Down, Northern Ireland. After moving to England, he morphed his patronymic to Bronte because uprisings in his native land were making the Irish unpopular in England. He added an umlaut at the end to further muddy the waters.
Peter & Wendy
    •    As adolescents are wont to do, Susan Alexandra Weaver decided her given name was boring and changed it to Sigourney because of a passage in The Great Gatsby. She was later to find that "Mrs Sigourney Howard" actually reflected how women were described by their husband's names in the '20s (and beyond). No matter: the moniker seems perfect for the striking actress (and way more suitable than her father's original choice of "Flora").
    •    J.M. Barrie invented the name "Wendy."
    •    Prolific novelist Anthony Trollope had a short fuse, and he particularly loathed brass bands and barrel organs. He died of a heart attack, possibly brought on by screaming at same out of a hotel window. (Sounds like a plot for Agatha Christie!)
    •    Bulgari jewelers paid one of my favorite writers, British novelist Fay Weldon, ₤18,000 to recast The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, with product placements strewn about. "When asked how she, shortlisted for the Booker Prize, could sell out this way, she replied that the buggers had never actually given her the prize."
    •    Now test your literary acumen by guessing the ultimate names of these provisionally titled novels: First Impressions, Hearts Insurgent, The Last Man in Europe, According to Cocker, The Man of Feeling, The Sisters, Tote the Weary Load.
Out with first impressions; in with alliteration.
Pride and Prejudice, Jude the Obscure, 1984, Hard Times, Lucky Jim, The Rainbow, Gone With the Wind. 
Speaking of toting a weary load, a survey taken in 2007 established the following "must read" books as ones people were least likely to finish: Crime & Punishment, Vernon God Little, Ulysses, Captain Corelli's Violin, Cloud Atlas (wonder if they'll see the movie), War and Peace, The Alchemist, The Satanic Verses (ouch! Take that, three Booker Prizes!), The God of Small Things.
Vindication anyone? I must admit I left off Arundhati Roy's book, and it keeps staring at me accusingly.


  1. Doesn't anyone remember Aram Saroyan (son of William), whose poems were often a single word?

  2. No, I'd love to hear some. Might make poetry lovers out of more people.

  3. WILHELM THADDEUS FINKNovember 30, 2012 at 3:07 PM

    So I did some digging on Aram Saroyan because I was intrigued. Apparently, his daughters are named Strawberry and Cream!! Yikes, I can understand how some people change their names (wink...). Sigourney Weaver had the right idea:)

  4. Do you think "lighght" is a poem?
    Would it interest you to know the National Endowment for the Arts gave the writer a $500 prize for it?
    Wiki says Ronald Reagan opposed the idea. Well, thank you!
    I am going to make a pie crust now, because when my hands are covered in dough, I cannot bore you with why that kind of fraudulent poetry makes me angry.
    BTW, is that one child Saroyan or two?

    1. Lighght --what does that even mean? I agree; pretty stupid on the face of it.

  5. I was just reading up on Patrick Bronte, apparently he lived to the rip old age of 84, in 1800's time thats like someone today living until they are 130, whoa!!!!

    1. So sad that all of his daughters died before him.

  6. I give props to anyone who can get through Crime and Punishment who wasn't required to read it for class. It was a struggle, I'm sad to admit.

  7. Poet Amy Lowell (a woman of means) rented five rooms in any hotel she stayed at to create quiet above, below, and on both sides...

    I’m surprised a poet, even a well-known one, had the money to live like this. It's also said this was the common practice of the famously neurotic and hypochondriac Joseph Pulitzer (who definitely could afford it). In 1894, he also spent $100,000 (equivalent today to about $2.6 million) to add a four-story ‘Tower of Silence’ onto his summer mansion Chatwold in Bar Harbor. The house stood on the coast, a few miles from where I’m typing this, until it was demolished in 1945.

    p.s. I had no trouble at all finishing Captain Corelli, The Alchemist, Vernon God Little (which I wouldn't call a must read), Crime & Punishment, or even War and Peace (although the Epilogue is pretty tedious). But I have been on page 37 of Ulysses now for about the last nine months.

    1. Hey there, RPS! Did you see The White Shadow yet?
      I buzzed through Crime & Punishment, but the society parts of War & Peace had me wishing I were back at the front.
      I made it through Ulysses, but it was a forced march.
      I've a theory that, at a certain stage in life, D. H. Lawrence enchants like a breath from another world. But one grows out of him, more drastically than other writers, till reading his work causes mild indigestion.
      What do you think?

    2. JP, you so brilliantly distracted me, I forgot all about the brain question. Did someone actually weigh a writer's brain? My guess it would be Edgar Poe's, which would be for him a nightmare come true.

    3. I heard somewhere it was Walt Whitman's. Out of how many weighed, I don't know.

    4. RPS, you made my day with "Tower of Silence"! It's up there with Superman's "Fortress of Solitude". I tried Vernon God Little and gave up. I really love the Leopold Bloom parts of Ulysses--I recently heard a dramatization on a BBC podcast.

    5. RPS, it's always interesting to click on your links. In this case, a "sic transit gloria mundi" tale and a lovely house. Thanks.

  8. Hey there, RPS! Did you see The White Shadow yet?

    I was on the road (and away from the Internet) for Thanksgiving week. Just catching up with it now, thanks to this blog.

  9. Hi JP,

    Tell us about Fay Weldon.

    To me the Roy book read like weak Rushdie---didn't get halfway.
    Regards and Thanks.

  10. She's a wickedly funny British satirist of manners and morals. regards and nice to hear from you!

    1. Yes, definitely worth a look. I've heard her name over the years. Have you sold any of her books? Anything now?