Review: Literary Rogues

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Literary RoguesLiterary Rogues: A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors by Andrew Shaffer
Published by Harper Perennial on February 5, 2013
Genres: Nonfiction
Pages: 297
Format: Paperback
Source: Publisher

In Great Philosophers Who Failed at Love, Andrew Shaffer explored the romantic failures of some of the great minds in history. Now, in Literary Rogues, he turns his unflinching eye and wit to explore our love-hate relationship with literature's most contrarian, drunken, vulgar, and just plain rude bad boys (and girls) in this very funny and shockingly true compendium of literary misbehavior.

Vice wasn't always the domain of rock stars, rappers, and actors. There was a time when writers fought both with words and fists, a time when writing was synonymous with drinking and early mortality. The very mad geniuses whose books are studied in schools around the world are the very ones who fell in love repeatedly, and either outright killed themselves or drank or drugged themselves as close to death's door as they could possibly get. Literary Rogues turns back the clock to celebrate historical and living legends of Western literature, such as: Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Hunter S. Thompson, and Bret Easton Ellis.

Part nostalgia, part serious history of Western literary movements, and Literary Rogues is a wholly raucous celebration of oft-vilified writers and their work, brimming with interviews, research, and personality.

First Sentence: “‘As a young child, I wanted to be a writer because writers were rich and famous.'”

Literary Rogues consists of portraits of the ‘bad boys’ of literature, though some women, too, merit a place within these pages. These are the authors with wild lifestyles, drug habits, and an endless string of romantic relationships. Though not a history tome by any means, this relatively brief nonfiction book is a delightful light read for those curious about author biographies but not perhaps committed to a full length work on a particular author.

As a reader, I cannot help but be fascinate by authors and the lives that they live. Of course, most authors do not live lives radically different from other people. In our imaginations, though, they take on characteristics of their characters, of their narratives. Shaffer opens by relating a story from his youth, wherein he meets Marvel Comics writer Frank Castle. Shaffer had a number of expectations of what Castle would be like, and none of them came close to the reality. In Literary Rogues, Shaffer peers into the lives of some of the most famously vibrant, dramatic personalities in writing and shows both how exciting their lives were and how sad.

Literary Rogues will appeal to fans of general knowledge. If you love trivia, there are endless tidbits to be garnered from within these pages. For example, William S. Burroughs murdered his wife (in a drunken game of William Tell) and Norman Mailer stabbed his. Fun facts, no? Almost all of the wayward authors struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, often combined with mental disorders, like depression. It’s really tragic the way these lives fell apart. I also find it odd that some lived to such old ages, though they partook of terrible life choices just as much as anyone else. The drugs and alcohol become so tied up in the creative process of writing that the habits are hard to shake, for fear of losing talent.

The time period ranges from the Marquis de Sade to James Frey. The earlier authors are covered chapter by chapter, with a brief rundown of their life and some of the wildest stories. As Shaffer moves forward in time, he begins interweaving more authors into each chapter, covering the generations and adding in more history, this seeming to be more where his passion lies. Though I can see why he switched up his style, I preferred the more organized method of tackling one author at a time. I also struggled a bit with the sections on the Beat Generation and Ken Kesey’s group, since I took a college course on them and new most of the information already.

Shaffer’s writing style is very readable, and he adds quite a bit of humor to subject matter which alternates between depressing and hilariously ridiculous. For an overview of some of the most sensational authors, Literary Rogues is a great choice, and, now that I know a bit more about these authors, I know which ones I want to research more extensively.

13 responses to “Review: Literary Rogues”

  1. Hmm, that is quite a switch from depressing to hilarious, but sounds like the author made it work.

  2. KM says:

    Hah! This sounds sort of funny, but I know if it has Oscar Wilde and Lord Byron it’s going to be sad – both of them had terrible lives at the end. Also, I love Fitzgerald but talk about a sad life! And Hemingway? Gah, okay, I take it back, this book doesn’t sound funny, it sounds super sad. lol

    • Christina says:

      Hahaha, they all had bad ends, except for the ones that are still alive. The roguishness tends to have been caused by drugs or alcohol, which generally ends in death.

  3. Amy says:

    This sounds interesting. I don’t think it’s anything that I would pick up, but I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

  4. Christine D. says:

    I love the quirkiness of this book. It is always great to shed light on these literary badasses. Cannot wait to see the part with Hemingway. 😀

  5. Giselle says:

    OOf this sounds very different from anything I’ve ever read. This is the one you were talking about eh? It sounds pretty amusing with some shockingly depressing sounding moments, too O_O. We should write a modern blogger/author drama book! >.<

  6. Renae M. says:

    This is exactly the sort of nonfiction I like to read—books on relatively obscure facts and/or people. Obviously these people aren’t obscure, but I certainly didn’t know that Norman Mailer stabbed his wife! Will have to note this title for later research.

  7. Heidi says:

    Why yes, I AM a fan of general knowledge. This sounds like an excellent non-fiction read for me, it’s not too heavy, and since it jumps around to so many different authors, I doubt I’ll lose interest. Glad you reviewed this one!

    • Christina says:

      General Knowledge is my favorite military leader. *is hilarious* I like my nonfiction pretty light most of the time, so this was a nice quick read to fill my “officially learning stuff” quota.

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