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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David Bruce: The Funniest People in Books — Research, Revenge, Sales, Sex, Sports


• Peter Ustinov says that being famous is a handicap when it comes to doing first-hand research. For example, he can’t go into a brothel in Hamburg, Germany, to do research for a thriller because people ask him for his autograph.


• When the parents of author Michael Thomas Ford divorced after a long marriage, his mother — who had run away with another man — sent his father a long list of items that she said she would come by and pick up. She also included a much shorter list of items that she would allow him to keep. After receiving the letter. Mr. Ford’s father spent a lot of time in the horse barn. Soon, Mr. Ford’s mother came by and loaded up a huge U-Haul truck with stuff she and her husband had accumulated together during 35 years of marriage, and she also loaded ten heavy boxes labeled “Dishes” and “Garden Stuff,” leaving behind a piano she didn’t have room for. After she had left, Mr. Ford’s father had a big smile on his face, and Mr. Ford asked him why. His father replied, “Did you see those big cardboard boxes? The ones marked ‘Dishes’ and ‘Garden Stuff’? I put those there. They were filled with bags of horse sh*t taken from the barn.”

• The ancient Greek poet Ibykos (who lived in the 6th century B.C.E.) was said to have been murdered by robbers. Before dying, he exclaimed to the robbers that some birds — cranes — nearby would be his avengers. The robbers laughed at him and murdered him anyway. When the robbers entered a city later, one of the robbers saw some cranes and shouted, “Look — the avengers of Ibykos.” This aroused the curiosity of the citizens of the city, who — after investigating and discovering that the robbers had murdered Ibykos — put the robbers to death.


• Valerie Taylor was one of the first people to write positive lesbian fiction. She remembers the first time she saw someone buying one of her novels. She felt like rushing up to him, shaking his hand, and thanking him, but managed to restrain herself.

• After James M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, wrote his first book, Better Dead, and paid a publisher to print it, he used to hang around newsstands, hoping to see someone buy a copy.


• Screenwriter Gene Fowler was tending the lawn of his California home when a car drove up to him and stopped, then the driver asked about a glamorous, sexy movie star, “Does Lana Turner live here?” Mr. Fowler looked up and answered, “If Lana Turner lived here, do you think I would be outdoors?”

• While Dorothy Parker was on her honeymoon, editor Harold Ross sent her a telegram asking her if she had finished an article she was writing for The New Yorker. She replied with this telegram: “TOO F*CKING BUSY, AND VICE VERSA.”


• When he was a young boy, young people’s book author Walter Dean Myers went with some other boys to a church gym, where they hoped to play full-court basketball. They were disappointed when they found half of the court occupied by girls who danced, then stretched. The boys made what they thought were appropriately disgusted comments, and the girls made a deal with them. If the boys could do the stretching exercises that the girls were doing, the girls would leave and allow the boys to play full-court basketball, but if the boys could not do the stretching exercises, then they had to perform the dance routine with them. The boys accepted the offer, but they quickly discovered that none of them were limber enough to do the stretching exercises that the girls were doing. The girls made the boys live up to the deal they had made — the boys had to perform the dance routine with them.


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Music: “Hot Blood” from the album SOULS FOR SALE

Artist: Verbena

Artist Location: Birmingham, Alabama

Record Company: Fat Possum Records

Info: Released 7 January 2020

Verbena is a flower

Price: $1 (USD) for track; $7 (USD) for 10-track album

Genre: Rock


Verbena on Bandcamp




Fat Possum Records