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4.0 out of 5 stars Who is that Writer Behind the Mask?, 20 Jun 2012
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takingadayoff "takingadayoff" (Las Vegas, Nevada) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
You could draw the conclusion, after reading this book, that writers who use pen names are weird. But that's probably not a fair conclusion. Author Carmela Ciuraru had a universe of writers with pen names to pick from and there was no point in picking the normal, boring ones.

Writers have different reasons for choosing pseudonyms, and Ciuraru seems to have picked the authors whose own identities were overshadowed by their alter egos, even in their own lifetimes. Perhaps the oddest of the bunch was Fernando Pessoa, who with over seventy identities, was a troubled and sick man. The Bronte sisters used men's names to maintain their anonymity and to give themselves an advantage in getting published. They were the least strange of the bunch.

My reading of Nom de Plume gravitated toward the authors whose works I have read and I was fascinated to read the story of Georges Simenon, who was busy enough to be at least a dozen men, but was astonishingly only one. He wrote an average of four books a year throughout his life and still had time to conduct multiple affairs. Obviously time management was a special talent of his.

Patricia Highsmith only wrote one book under a pseudonym, and therefore barely qualifies to be in this book, but her story is so peculiar, unpleasant, and irresistible, that Ciuraru had to include it.

Mark Twain was not only the well-known pen name of Samuel Clemens, but was the smoother, friendlier version of the man. Clemens was grumpy, depressed, and difficult, but Mark Twain was the funny, wry, publicly acceptable persona.

What surprised me was the number of writers who not only adopted pen names, but seemed to prefer their new identities to the old ones. Simenon was a pen name, but for at least half his life, he was Simenon almost exclusively, in public and private. George Orwell was another who became his alter ego, for the most part abandoning his birth name of Eric Blair.

Until recently, most of us who are not writers or con artists didn't need to worry about whether to use a false identity. Now, quite a lot of us adopt a user name or a blog avatar. It seems like a harmless and perhaps even a sensible thing to do. After reading Nom de Plume, you may think a bit harder about the meaning of hiding behind a mask.
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Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms
Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms by Carmela Ciuraru (Paperback - 29 May 2012)
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