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The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (Oxford Books of Prose & Verse) (2006)

by John Gross

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I have been having a good time lately browsing through "The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes." I usually just open the book at random and read whatever I come across.

The book is simply a collections of stories — from biographies and other sources — about writers from Geoffrey Chaucer to J.K. Rowling. These are mostly, but not exclusively, British writers.

Some of the tales are quite sad, such as the one about the death of Jane Austen in 1817 — her last recorded words were, "I want nothing but death" — and Mary Wollstonecraft's suicide attempt. The latter jumped from a bridge into the Thames, but because of her bulky clothing, she floated long enough to be rescued. By surviving, she was later able to give birth to Mary Shelley, who gave us Frankenstein.

Other stories are lighter, more in keeping with what we usually mean when we use the word anecdote. When G.K. Chesterton got his first look at the lights of Broadway, he is said to have commented, "What a glorious garden of wonders this would be for anyone who was lucky enough to be unable to read."

People who knock on the door of your home to try to convert you to their particular religious views are nothing new. When Thomas Paine had such a visitor at his door, he reportedly told her, "Pshaw! God would not send such a foolish, ugly old woman as you about with his messages. Go away — be off — and shut the door."

In a secondhand bookshop, George Bernard Shaw found a book with the words "To ___ with esteem, George Bernard Shaw." He bought it and sent it again to the same person, after adding the words, "With renewed esteem, George Bernard Shaw." ( )
  hardlyhardy | Jul 22, 2012 |
Anecdotes (brief stories) about writers, minor and major. This edition includes post-colonial writers such as Walcott and Achebe (Walcott amusing the Queen).
  Fledgist | Dec 23, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192804685, Hardcover)

The dictionary defines an anecdote as "a short account of an entertaining or interesting incident," and the anecdotes in this collection more than live up to that description. Many of them offer revealing insights into writers' personalities, their frailties and insecurities. Some of the anecdotes are funny, often explosively so, while others are touching, sinister, or downright weird. They show writers in the English-speaking world from Chaucer to the present acting both unpredictably, and deeply in character.
The range is wide -- this is a book that finds room for anecdotes about Milton and Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and Salman Rushdie, Chinua Achebe and Bob Dylan, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Wittgenstein. The authors of the anecdotes are equally diverse, from the diarists John Aubrey, John Evelyn and James Boswell to fellow writers such as W. H. Auden, Harriet Martineau, Walter Scott, Evelyn Waugh, and Vanessa Bell.

It is also a book in which you can find out which great historian's face was once mistaken for a baby's bottom, which film star left a haunting account of Virginia Woolf not long before her death, and what Agatha Christie really thought of Hercule Poirot. The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes is a book not just for lovers of literature, but for anyone with a taste for the curiosities of human nature.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:45 -0400)

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Presenting a collection of literary gossip and sidelights on the lives of the authors, this anthology finds room for Chaucer, Milton and Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and P.G. Wodehouse, Chinua Achebe and Ian Fleming, Brendan Behan and Wittgenstein.

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