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The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (Oxford Books of Prose & Verse) [Paperback]

John Gross
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Sep 2008 Oxford Books of Prose & Verse
An unrivalled collection of literary gossip and intimate sidelights on the lives of the authors.

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 are funny, often explosively so. Others are touching, outrageous, sinister, inspiring, 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 which finds room for Milton and Margaret Atwood, George Eliot and P. G. Wodehouse, Chinua Achebe and Ian Fleming, Brendan Behan and Wittgenstein. 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 - a book not just for lovers of literature, but for anyone with a taste for the curiosities of human nature.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; Reprint edition (25 Sep 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199543410
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199543410
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 12.5 x 19 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 775,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


There's ...much to enjoy (Ian Pinder, The Guardian)

About the Author

John Gross is the editor of The Oxford Book of Aphorisms, The Oxford Book of Essays, After Shakespeare, and many other publications. He was editor of the Times Literary Supplement from 1974 to 1981, and is currently theatre critic of the Sunday Telegraph.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit dull 15 April 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was a dry read and I never finished it for that reason. Perhaps something to dip into when you are in the right frame of mind. I expected to be more amused.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still wading through it !!! good for reference. 14 Dec 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Lots to read as yet, can't comment fully on something I have NOT read.
Not read, not read, not read !!!!!
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1 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars a disappointing book 24 Sep 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
i wanted a book full of liteay sayings and was disappointed to find it contains many uninteresting facts. It is no use for people wanting to check who said what as one could in the original oxford book of quotations.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're in the room as literary history is made 17 July 2006
By Jesse Kornbluth - Published on
Civilians like to imagine that writers talk about writing when they get together. I'm sure, in all of literary history, that has happened several times. But it is not a favorite subject. Sex is. As is Food. Travel. Money. The perfidy of rivals. And did I say money?

Those are ordinary topics. But that doesn't mean we have nothing to gain from hearing what writers have to say about them. These are writers, remember? They're at the most clever when they're envious, scornful or otherwise out of sorts.

John Gross, editor of this anthology, is a particularly witty example of the breed. I stood by him at a party once, and, though I am said to be not entirely dull, I remained mute for a good twenty minutes. Gross spoke in epigrams. He could go lofty or vulgar. He was wise and wicked, and, most of all, funny. No surprise that he has edited a book with those same qualities.

Anecdotes are compressed stories, the more compressed the better. Like this one, about the dictionary-maker and moralist Samuel Johnson: "A young fellow, lamenting one day that he had lost all his Greek --- Johnson retorted, 'I believe it happened at the same time that I lost my large estate in Yorkshire.'"

I was amused to read about William Blake and his wife, sitting in their summer house, naked: "Come in," cried Blake. "It's only Adam and Eve, you know!"

And here's a trivia question. What lines did William Wordsworth write before forking manure into his garden? The opening stanza of the Immortality Ode:

There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,

The earth, and every common sight,

To me did seem

Appareled in celestial light

The glory and the freshness of a dream...

Do you know Jane Austen's last words? "I want nothing but death."

Here we look over the shoulder of John Keats as he coughs up the first drop of blood --- and knows exactly what it means. We hear Ralph Waldo Emerson dismiss Edgar Allen Poe as "the jingle man." We watch Anthony Trollope chow down and explain that he doesn't have a good appetite, he's just "very greedy."

Oscar Wilde pays a visit to Walt Whitman. Wilkie Collins confesses a drug habit. Emily Dickinson exhausts a visitor. Lewis Carroll plays dumb. At a party given by a Duchess, Henry James describes himself as a hermit. Arthur Conan Doyle demonstrates how to make a holy man jealous. George Bernard Shaw reveals the source of his skepticism. A drama critic falls asleep --- and on his face. Another poet pours a beer over Robert Frost's head. Sinclair Lewis brags about his new book.

As we reach the Twentieth Century, the anecdotes turn more political. Ludwig Wittgenstein gives his money away to his rich relatives, on the theory that they can't be further corrupted by it. Vladimir Nabokov has a violent reaction to anti-Semitism. A Communist sympathizer tells George Orwell: "You can't make an omelette without breaking eggs," causing Orwell to reply, "Where's the omelette?" Samuel Beckett gives his jacket to a tramp --- without emptying the pockets. W.H. Auden contemplates the death penalty for Brecht.

There are more Brits than Americans, which seems just. It also makes the book a better gift for English majors than for civilian readers. On the other hand, the last anecdote in the book is about J.K. Rowling --- scholarly this ain't.

The idea reader of this book: the lover of books with snooty friends. Read this, pen in hand, and you'll have more than enough ammo to dazzle your listeners at high-minded parties. Any writer quoted in these pages would understand that motive.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Don't buy this if you don't have a magnifying glass 6 Dec 2013
By Susan Ohanian - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm sure this book would be a delight to read--if I could read it without a magnifying glass. VERY small print make this frustrating rather than enjoyable
4.0 out of 5 stars Literary entertainment 19 Jun 2014
By michael train - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
It doesn't exactly need a review. It's a literary entertainment and well done too. A real treat for the cognoscenti.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Astonishingly dull 6 Mar 2013
By Diane C. Fox - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I was amazed at how uninteresting most of the anecdotes truly are. The 18th century writers had a bit more dash to their stories, which I expected. Maybe the best stories were left on the cutting room floor out of respect.
4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes 4 Nov 2006
By Barbara And Byron Skinner - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book is more a reference book then something readable but it does have its moments. If you have a few minutes to kill and are looking for something a little light and amusing this book may fit the bill.
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