David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books, Volume 2 — Controversy, Critics


• As a political writer in Newark, New Jersey, LeRoi Jones (who later changed his name to Amiri Baraka), often wrote pamphlets against the mayor, Hugh Addonizio. The FBI even claimed that one of Mr. Jones’ pamphlets contained instructions for making a Molotov cocktail. This amused Mr. Jones, who said, “One thing about the FBI — they’re always trying to make you famous.”

• Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, and her husband, Bill Sanger, fought a tough battle to bring birth control to the masses. Ms. Sanger wrote a pamphlet called “Family Limitation,” and when Mr. Sanger distributed it, he was accused of trying to “turn every home into a brothel.”


• J.R.R. Tolkien had an unfinished children’s story that the London publishers George Allen & Unwin heard about. The chair of George Allen & Unwin got hold of a copy and gave it to Raynor, his 11-year-old son, to read. He also said that he would give a shilling to young Raynor if he wrote a review; thus, Raynor became the first critic of the manuscript that would become The Hobbit — he liked it. As a result of Raynor’s one-paragraph, somewhat misspelled review, George Allen & Unwin decided to publish the novel, and Mr. Tolkien, of course, went on to write The Lord of the Rings. After he had grown up, Raynor said, “I earned that shilling. I wouldn’t say that my report was the best critique of The Hobbit that has been written, but it was good enough to ensure that it was published.”

• The art of Phelan Gibb was at first disliked by members of the public and by many art critics. When Mr. Gibb’s paintings were hanging in a gallery, writer H.G. Wells stopped in and liked what he saw. Mr. Gibb and Mr. Wells spoke, and Mr. Gibb complained about his critics, pointing out, “I would like a little appreciation from my own countrymen.” The next day, Mr. Wells returned to the art gallery, bringing with him Arnold Bennett and a number of art critics. He announced, “Mr. Gibb, may I present your enemies!” (“Enemies” may have been the right word. Mr. Gibb and Mr. Bennett got into such a heated argument that they almost had to be physically and forcibly separated from each other.)

• British writer J.G. Ballard, the author of Empire of the Sun, also wrote Crash, which became a movie directed by David Cronenberg. In the novel and movie, characters are sexually aroused by car and truck crashes. The person assigned to first read the novel at a British publishing house wrote on the manuscript, “This author is beyond psychiatric help. Do Not Publish!”

• People in the arts are regularly bothered by people who send them scripts, novels, and other works to read. For several years, dramatic critic Alexander Woollcott received in the mail plays by a man whose work varied wildly in theme, plot, characters, etc. The only thing the plays had in common was the return address: the Matteawan State Hospital for the Insane.

• Some sentences have more than one meaning, including contradictory meanings. (A pause in a sentence can be important.) Poet Robert Southey hinted around for a compliment about Madoc, his epic, so classical scholar Richard Porson said, “Madoc will be remembered — when Homer and Virgil are forgotten.”


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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Music Recommendation: Justin Townes Earle — “Ain’t Got No Money”


Music: “Ain’t Got No Money”


Artist: Justin Townes Earle (January 4, 1982 – August 20, 2020) 

Artist Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Record Company: New West Records

Record Company Location: Nashville, Tennessee

Info: Justin Townes Earle also has music on Bloodshot Records.

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $10 (USD) for 12-track album

Genre: Folk, Country


Justin Townes Earle on Bandcamp




New West Records


Bloodshot Records