David Bruce: The Coolest People in Books — Illnesses and Injuries, Insults, Language

Illnesses and Injuries

• Critic Simon Barnes believes that the thrillers of Dick Francis are predictable, but that isn’t a problem because in addition to being predictable they are predictably good. In fact, they make perfect reading on a transatlantic flight from London to New York. Mr. Barnes writes, “Three bloody Marys and a new Dick Francis and you’re in New York before you know you’ve taken off.” By the way, Mr. Francis was a jockey before he became an author. Like all jockeys, he was frequently injured, fracturing his collarbone six times, breaking his nose five times, and fracturing his skull once. Mr. Francis remembers one particular accident: “A horse put his foot right through my face, slicing my nose open. I had 32 stitches from above my eye to the end of my nose. The doctor was delighted because he could show the inside of a nose to all his students.”

• When Anthony Burgess was incorrectly diagnosed with brain cancer, he wrote five books in a year because he wanted his widow to be financially provided for after his death.

Insults

• While in the company of Mark Twain, the French author Paul Bourget insulted all Americans by saying, “When an American has nothing else to do, he can always spend a few years trying to discover who his grandfather was.” Mr. Twain replied, “And when all other interests fail for a Frenchman, he can always try to figure out who his father was.”

• Many people kiss and tell, but the novelist George Moore was once accused of something else. A woman named Susan Mitchell said about him, “Some people kiss and tell. George Moore told but did not kiss.”

Language

• The best comedians often have many skills — they not only make people laugh, but also master language, criticize what is bad, recognize what is good, give credit where credit is due, and think both well and deeply. For example, George Carlin read and admired the books of Robert S. McElvaine. About Eve’s Seed: Biology, the Sexes, and the Course of History, Mr. Carlin wrote, “This impressive book … will provide [an] invaluable source of inspiration … regarding the huge issue of male/female roles and their impact on us. It’s about time someone put men in their proper place: on the bottom.” And Mr. Carlin provided this blurb for Mr. McElvaine’s Grand Theft Jesus: The Hijacking of Religion in America: “If Robert McElvaine had been Jesus’ lawyer, Pontius Pilate would have released him on his own recognizance.”

• Ian McEwan wanted to learn to speak correctly when he was young; therefore, he arranged for his best friend, Mark Wing-Davey, whom he calls “a rare and genuine middle-class type,” to say the word “did” whenever Ian mistakenly said the word “done.” One day, Ian gave an oral presentation in history class on the reforms of Pope Gregory VII. Ian mistakenly said the word “done,” Mark said the word “did,” and the history teacher became angry at what he thought was Mark’s rudeness. Fortunately, Ian was able to explain what had happened.

• Lesbian author Valerie Taylor was on Studs Terkel’s radio program one day and she said the word “screw.” One of the radio personnel said, “We’ll have to blip out ‘screw.’” Ms. Taylor responded, “I thought I was being nice. What I really meant was ‘f**k.’” Afterwards, Studs sometimes asked Ms. Taylor as a private joke, “When are you gonna come on my show and say ‘f**k’?

• Edward Gibbon wrote a massive history of the decline and fall of Rome. Once, Richard Brinsley Sheridan called Mr. Gibbon “luminous.” When a friend later asked why he had chosen that particular word, Mr. Sheridan joked that he had made a mistake: “I meant voluminous.”

• Makeup — at one time aka paint — has been with us a long time. At a party, Voltaire asked Lord Chesterfield which of the women present — the French or the English — he thought were more beautiful. Lord Chesterfield punned, “I am no connoisseur in paintings.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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