This Guy Needs a Lot of Surgery, and Other News


On the Shelf

A textbook Medieval Wound Man. Image: Wellcome Library, via Public Domain Review.


  • Imagine being a successful writer. Like, one who actually makes enough money to have a large disposable income; one who has so many passionate readers that one’s personal life comes under scrutiny. It’s hard to picture it, isn’t it? If it actually happened to you, would you even know how to spend the money? Or would you do what Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants, did, and buy a bunch of Hatchimals on eBay? Michael Schaub writes, “The writer purchased 156 of the in-demand toys at an average price of $151—spending more than $23,000—with the goal of reselling them at a further marked-up price. She intends to use the proceeds to help fund the defense of a man she says is serving a life sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. Her plan backfired, though, when eBay wouldn’t let her resell the toys, she wrote in a Facebook post that drew some harsh criticism from readers. One called her move ‘Christmas greed,’ while another wrote, ‘Exploiting families whose children want these toys for Christmas is awful.’ She did have supporters, however, such as the woman who wrote, “Don’t let the haters stop you from doing what you believe is right! (((HUGS)))”
  • Tony Tulathimutte has had it up to here with this whole notion of the “voice of a generation” novel—so don’t ask him if he’s at work on one: “The idea of a one-size-fits-all masterpiece runs squarely against the novel form. Novels can certainly cover plenty of ground, containing hundreds of characters in diverse settings, but they’re still all about specificity. To a novelist, the lowest common denominator of affectations, fashions and consumption patterns evoked by the generational tag are seldom any character’s most interesting qualities, except in novels that are about superficiality itself, like American Psycho. The generational novel, like the Great American Novel, is a comforting romantic myth, which wrongly assumes that commonality is more significant than individuality.” 

  • Before Oulipo and its golden age of wanton prose experimentation, there was Ernest Vincent Wright, a novelist who was really into radical restraints, if you catch my drift. (And I don’t mean he had a BDSM fetish.) In 1939, he published Gadsby, a novel entirely without the letter e; its e-less-ness caused such a scandal that he had to self-publish it. Richard Davies writes, “Gadsby tells the story of a fictional city called Branton Hills, which is revitalized as a result of the efforts of its new mayor, John Gadsby, and a group of young people … It is awkward to read. The narrative doesn’t flow and it feels like Wright swallowed a dictionary, which he probably did. The characters’ speech is stilted. The plot concerns civic improvements, like creating a zoo, and these are not the most thrilling of literary devices: ‘Branton Hills’ philanthrophy was now showing signs of monotony; so our Organization had to work its linguistic ability and captivating tricks full blast, until that thousand dollars had so grown that a library was built on a vacant lot which had grown nothing but grass … ’ ”