Secret Lives of Great Authors

I read a captivating book the other day. 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.

secret-lives
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 bet you haven’t heard most of them!

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.”

Ayn Rand hated Beethoven so much that she’d end friendships with those who liked him.

Toni Morrison began in the publishing biz as an editor. She discovered and nurtured many writers, even going so far as to support them financially. She’d send them a check and tell them they won some fake grant. How can you not love her?!

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?

0 thoughts on “Secret Lives of Great Authors

  1. RnBram

    Where the H E double hockey sticks did Schnakenberg get the idea that Rand dismissed friends if they enjoyed Beethoven. I know of ne individual who was a good friend of Rand, for many years, and who loved many of Beethoven’s Symphonies. He was never dismissed.

    Already, Schnakenberg is an author I will never contribute a penny to. Already, I suspect his psychology. What other authors is he misrepresenting??

    Reply
    1. beckycc

      Hmmm… maybe the Beethoven thing never came up with your friend. Try as I might, I can’t recall ever once having a conversation with any of my friends about Beethoven. We do, however, discuss cheese quite often. Don’t get me started on feta ….

      Reply
  2. Claudia

    OOOOoooo! This is fascinating AND controversial!! I love it! And don’t think I won’t be doing my research to prove or disprove as much as possible!!

    Reply
  3. RnBram

    Actually, 2 & 3 make exactly the right point. The Beethoven issue is a shallow, foolish & ultimately contemptible detail, however true or false. It’s akin to summarizing a biography of Billy Graham by claiming he often forgot to tie his shoelaces. Stupid Schnakenberg.

    Reply
  4. Claudia

    Okay, (and this could be totally wrong) but I don’t think it is meant to summarize anyone’s career–just offer up some juicy or informative tidbits. “People” in this shallow society like tidbits. I want to judge it for myself, and if the said tidbits can be proven, I may even enjoy it. I have no time for “…it was said that…” style of writing, however.

    Reply
    1. beckycc

      I don’t have the book in front of me anymore, but I’m pretty sure there was an entire chapter devoted to Ayn Rand. The Beethoven thing was just a fun fact. I don’t think it’s fair to call Schnakenberg “stupid” because he included it in the book. Especially if one hasn’t bothered to actually read said book. Personally, that’s the kind of stuff I like reading about … unimportant tidbits from the lives of famous authors. I don’t care about the ‘official biography’ … that’s what teachers create boring lectures around. I want to know if Billy Graham couldn’t keep his shoes tied, or if Ernest Hemingway couldn’t make a cursive “S”, or if John Steinbeck was devoted to his pet banana slugs, leaving them his fortune in a hotly contested last will and testament that tied up the US judicial system for a decade before finally reaching the Supreme Court where the stress of the arguments caused three Justices to keel over, one of whom whispered, “Rosebud” in a highly agitated state, thereby throwing the trial into chaos while Perry Mason investigated why one of the Justices wanted to go sledding so badly right then.

      But I guess that’s why they’ll never let me teach high school English.

      Reply
  5. RnBram

    “People” in this shallow society like tidbits.

    Clearly so, and more’s the pity: Maury, Oprah, The Bachelor, Survivor, silly dating shows, Britney/Paris news.

    The person presenting the above summary of the book chose to put up tidbits as being of interest, concerning either the famous person being described, or the author’s approach. In either case the Beethoven tidbit is false, and from Schnakenberg. Schnakenberg certainly put aside any interest in his own credibility on that point. What other points are misleading and/or false on other famous people, or does he reserve such indiscretion for Rand? If it isn’t foolish lack of diligence, it’s dishonest. Rejecting stupidity as the reason for false tidbits, just leaves dishonesty, which is a much more severe criticism.

    Reply
  6. Ron

    There are six friggin’ billion of us. People like what people like. It would be boring as (the other side of the Styx) if everyone liked the same thing. (No matter how hard FOX, Viacom and Wal-Mart try to convince us we should).

    ttfn, ron

    Reply
  7. Ron

    Oops, sorry I digressed and got off topic – (yeah, like THAT ever happens). I think all creative writers have quirks. Without those quirks, they would be actuaries — or people who write books about the quirks of authors 🙂

    Hey Beck, I LOVE this blog, every day a new direction.

    Reply
  8. Schnakenberg

    Thanks, Becky, for the heads up. I’ve actually been monitoring this thread all morning. I’m not at my desk right now, but if memory serves me, I believe the anecdote in question may be sourced to a book called The Passion of Ayn Rand, written by Rand’s former associate Barbara Branden. I’ll certainly defer to my Objectivist friend if (s)he personally knows a Beethoven-loving friend of Ms. Rand’s who wasn’t excommunicated. I only wish I had encountered him/her two years ago when I was writing the book. I certainly would have included the counterargument. As to RnBram’s aspersions on my psychology, I can easily provide at least a half a dozen character witnesses who will back them up completely. Thanks for reading! RS

    Reply
  9. Pingback: Schnakworld » Blog Archive » Atlas Mugged

    1. beckycc

      It occurs to me … as unwitting blog provocateur extraordinaire … I should have ready access to Schnakenberg’s “Distory: A Treasury of Historical Insults” to protect and defend the innocents in BeckyLand.

      “A hint is like a stranger who hasn’t given me a gift yet.”

      I’m just sayin …..

      Reply
  10. Midnightdreary

    Just a quick comment on “The Raven” – Poe wasn’t in a rush to get the poem published, as this book seems to state. He always published in newspapers and magazines, and “The Raven” was no exception. Copyright protection didn’t exist in general in the United States in those days; it had nothing to do with newspapers. He did make “some” money off it (evidence says either $9 or $15), but he made $10 for “The Tell-Tale Heart” too… that’s the world of freelance writing in 1840s America!

    Reply
    1. beckycc

      Interesting about Poe and about copyright. I’m glad to know I’m in good company … I make about 10 bucks from stuff I write too. If I’m really, really lucky!

      Reply

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