Joseph Heller planned to title his novel Catch-18 until he found out that Leon Uris was about to publish Mila 18. Then the search was on to find a number other than 18. He and his publisher finally agreed on Catch-22 in part because there were many instances of two in the novel, and 22 is made up of two twos.
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In 1907 American humorist and author Gelett Burgess attended an annual trade association dinner at which he presented members a copy of his 1906 book Are You a Bromide? – a bromide is a trite saying. It had a dust jacket with the photograph of a pretty young woman who seemed to be calling out something. Below her photo was information about the book. He said the woman’s name was Miss Belinda Blurb, and that she was blurbing. At that point a new word was born. Now, a blurb is any promotional material especially on the dusts jacket of a book or on other items such as DVDs.
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According to Christopher Booker’s book, The Seven Basic Plots, there are only seven plot lines in all of literature, and we simply keep recycling them by varying the time periods, the locations, the characters, the plot twists and so forth. If that is so, we can go back in time and find some early examples of the seven plot lines that were used in Greek and Roman times, and in the Bible. Here are the seven plot lines:
- rags to riches – Moses
- the quest – Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece
- voyage – The Aeneid by Virgil
- return – The Odyssey by Homer
- comedy – Lysistrata by Aristophanes
- tragedy – Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
- rebirth – many characters in the Bible are “reborn,” and change their names as a result. They include Saul who becomes Paul, and Abram who becomes Abraham.
So, what’s new in literature over the past 2,000 years or so? Probably nothing.
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Charles Dickens definitely had a sense of humor. One of his pranks was to come up with a list of silly book titles, and have a printer produce book covers that contained the names of his make-believe books. He then placed them in his library where he could enjoy the looks on the faces of visitors who read the strange titles. Here is a list of some of his make-believe books:
- History of a Short Chancery Suit
- Catalogue of Statues of the Duke of Wellington
- Five Minutes in China. 3 vols.
- Forty Winks at the Pyramids. 2 vols.
- Abernethy on the Constitution. 2 vols.
- Mr. Green’s Overland Mail. 2 vols.
- Captain Cook’s Life of Savage. 2 vols.
- A Carpenter’s Bench of Bishops. 2 vols.
- Toot’s Universal Letter-Writer. 2 vols.
- Orson’s Art of Etiquette.
- Downeaster’s Complete Calculator.
- History of the Middling Ages. 6 vols.
- Jonah’s Account of the Whale.
- Captain Parry’s Virtues of Cold Tar.
- Kant’s Ancient Humbugs. 10 vols.
- Bowwowdom. A Poem.
- The Quarrelly Review. 4 vols.
- The Gunpowder Magazine. 4 vols.
- Steele. By the Author of “Ion”
- The Art of Cutting the Teeth
- Matthew’s Nursery Songs. 2 vols.
- Paxton’s Bloomers. 5 vols.
- On the Use of Mercury by the Ancient Poets
- Drowsy’s Recollections of Nothing. 3 vols.
- Heavyside’s Conversations with Nobody. 3 vols.
- Commonplace Book of the Oldest Inhabitant. 2 vols.
- Growler’s Gruffiology, with Appendix. 4 vols.
- The Books of Moses and Sons. 2 vols.
- Burke (of Edinburgh) on the Sublime and Beautiful. 2 vols.
- Teazer’s Commentaries.
- King Henry the Eighth’s Evidences of Christianity. 5 vols.
- Miss Biffin on Deportment
- Morrison’s Pills Progress. 2 vols.
- Lady Godiva on the Horse
- Munchausen’s Modern Miracles. 4 vols.
- Richardson’s Show of Dramatic Literature. 12 vols.
- Hansard’s Guide to Refreshing Sleep. As many volumes as possible
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Three young men who had met in college – an English teacher, a history teacher, and a writer – decided to open a coffeehouse in Seattle back in 1971. They planned to call their new enterprise Pequod after the name of Captain Ahab’s whaling ship in Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick. However, they changed their minds and decided to name it after Starbuck the first mate of the Pequod. That’s how the Starbucks coffee chain got its name.
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“Purple prose” is writing that is so flowery or melodramatic that it is out of place. The term originated in the Roman poet Horace’s Ars Poetica where he wrote “Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy purple patches; as when describing a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana, or a stream meandering through fields, or the river Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?”
An example that you will recognize (at least in part) is the opening sentence of Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel Paul Clifford: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
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A “penny dreadful,” as I wrote in an earlier post, was a type of British fiction that was popular during the 19th century. The works, which were serialized in booklet form at a penny a part, were shocking and lurid, and were generally aimed at working class adolescents. Varney the Vampire (written 50 years before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula) and String of Pearls (which introduced us to Sweeney Todd) are examples of penny dreadful fiction. (You can read the entire 1846/47 penny dreadful String of Pearls here.)
The “penny dreadful” is coming back in an eight-part Showtime series entitled Penny Dreadful. The series, which is in the development phase will feature, Dr. Frankenstein and his creature, Dracula, and Dorian Gray as well as others. The action in this so-called psychosexual drama will take place in Victorian era London.
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Ernest Hemingway’s family has had more than its share of suicides. Of course Ernest Hemingway committed suicide at the age of 61, but he was only one of five Hemingways who took their own lives. The other four are Ernest’s father Clarence, his brother Leicester, his sister Ursula, and his granddaughter Margaux.
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The following 4 people have stars on the Hollywood walk of fame for themselves, and for their creations: Mel Blanc and Bugs Bunny; Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse; Jim Henson and Kermit the frog; Mike Myers and Shrek.
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The first paperback to sell a million copies was Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936). So far it has sold over 15 million copies world-wide.