Tag Archives: literary oddities

Book of Answers: The First National Book Award

Who received the first National Book Award for Fiction? Nelson Algren in 1950 for The Man with the Golden Arm.

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Joseph Addison, Presciently, on Today’s Political Discourse

“Our disputants put me in mind of the cuttlefish, that when he is unable to extricate himself, blackens all water about him until he becomes invisible.”

Joseph Addison

Excerpted from: Schapiro, Fred, ed. The Yale Book of Quotations. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Rotten Reviews: Three by Robert Coover

The Origin of the Brunists

‘…an explosion in a cesspool.’

Bruno McAndrew, Best Sellers

The Public Burning

‘…an overwritten bore…a protracted sneer.’

Paul Gray, Time

Gerald’s Party

‘The novel should develop a reader’s sensitivities, not deaden them with risible comic strip.’

New Statesman”

Excerpted from: Barnard, Andre, and Bill Henderson, eds. Pushcart’s Complete Rotten Reviews and Rejections. Wainscott, NY: Pushcart Press, 1998.    

The Algonquin Wits: Robert Benchley

“On mirrors: ‘Things are depressing enough as they are, without my going out of my way to make myself miserable.’”

Robert Benchley

Excerpted from: Drennan, Robert E., ed. The Algonquin Wits. New York: Kensington, 1985.


“Cuckold: The husband of an adulterous wife. The name derives from cuckoo, the chief characteristic of this bird being to deposit its eggs in other birds’ nests. Dr. Johnson explained that ‘it was usual to alarm a husband at the approach of an adulterer by calling Cuckoo, which by mistake was applied in time to the person warned.’ The cuckold was traditionally supposed to wear horns as the attribute of his condition. The usage is ancient; the Romans used to call an adulterer a cuckoo.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

Tolkien’s 20 Rings of Power

J.R.R. Tolkien’s works are deeply embedded within a lifetime of mythological and philological scholarship that merges strains of Celtic, Norse, Zoroastrian, Chinese, and Byzantine storylines with his own imagination. At the heart of his Lord of the Rings trilogy is the Dark Lord Sauron, who has made twenty rings of power: Three for the Elves; Seven for the Dwarfs; Nine for the Kings of Men; and One, forged in Mount Doom, which will allow him to control all the nineteen ring wearers as explained by the secret rune verse, ‘One ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One ring to bring them all, And in the darkness bind them.’

The ‘Kings of Men’ become the nine (another significant Tolkien number) dark riders—a mounted hit squad devoted to the service of the Dark Lord Sauron. Originally led by the witch-king of Angmar and the easterner Khamu, they were given rings to bind them into obedience to Sauron, and their character, shape, and substance are gradually subsumed until they become spectral Nazgul, ‘ring wraiths.’”

Excerpted from: Rogerson, Barnaby. Rogerson’s Book of Numbers: The Culture of Numbers–from 1,001 Nights to the Seven Wonders of the World. New York: Picador, 2013.

The Devil’s Dictionary: Absurdity

“Absurdity, n. [1.] A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one’s own opinion. [2.] The argument of an opponent. A belief in which one has not had the misfortune to be instructed.” 

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. David E. Schultz and S.J. Joshi, eds. The Unabridged Devil’s Dictionary. Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 2000. 

Book of Answers: The First Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

What novel won the first Pulitzer Prize? His Family by Ernest Poole in 1918.

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.

Write It Right: Calculated for Likely

“Calculated for Likely. ‘The bad weather is calculated to produce sickness.’ Calculated implies calculation, design.”

Excerpted from: Bierce, Ambrose. Write it Right: A Little Blacklist of Literary Faults. Mineola, NY: Dover, 2010.

Stephen Leacock on Statistics

“In ancient times they had not statistics so they had to fall back on lies.”

Stephen Leacock

Excerpted from: Winokur, Jon, ed. The Big Curmudgeon. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2007.