Everyone is a Critic

poison pen, critics, reviews, harsh criticism

From the pens of critics who are not afraid to speak freely:

  • “This is not a novel to be tossed lightly aside. It should be thrown with great force.” — Dorothy Parker
  • “I am sitting in the smallest room in my house. I have your review in front of me. Soon it will be behind me.” — Max Reger
  • “There is probably no hell for authors in the next world – they suffer so much from critics and publishers in this one.” — Christian N. Bovée
  • Paradise Lost is one of the books which the reader admires and lays down, and forgets to take up again. Its perusal is a duty rather than a pleasure.” — Samuel Johnson
  • “A mere ulcer; a sore from head to foot; a poor devil so completely flayed that there is not a square inch of healthy flesh on his carcass; an overgrown pimple, sore to the touch.” — The Quarterly Review on William Hazlitt in 1817
  • “Of Dicken’s style it is impossible to speak in praise. It is jerky, ungrammatical and created by himself in defiance of rules … No young novelist should ever dare to imitate the style of Dickens.” — Anthony Trollope on Charles Dickens
  • “I have two recommenda­tions. First, don’t buy this book. Second, if you buy this book, don’t drop it on your foot.” — The New Yorker on Chesapeake by James Michener
  • “It may be that this autobiography is set down in sincerity, frankness and simple effort. It may be, too, that the Statue of Liberty is situated in Lake Ontario.” — Dorothy Parker on Service of the King by Aimee Semple McPherson
  • “Never have I read such tosh. As for the first two chapters, we will let them pass, but the third, the fourth the fifth the sixth – merely the scratchings of pimples on the body of the boot-boy at Claridges.” — Virginia Woolf on James Joyce’s Ulysses
  • “This is easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read. And bear in mind that I’ve read John Grisham.” — Susan Cohen on Stieg Larsson’s The Girls With That Dragon Tattoo
  • “How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” — The Examiner on Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte


“Bloom County” by Berkeley Breathed, syndicated by Washington Post Writers Group

This Word for a Tasty Dish is a Real Mouthful

longest word in literature Aristophanes Assemblywomen

Aristophanes (427 BC – 386 BC) was groundbreaking with his plays. His skills as a satirist and as a keen observer of everyday life led him to give us one of the most revealing pictures of what life was like in ancient Athens. Continue reading

Realism = Hyper-Caffeinated 


Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850)

Honoré de Balzac, widely considered as one of the founders of realism in European literature, drank 50 cups of coffee each day.

He was well regarded for having keen observation of detail — undoubtedly owing to the fact that the world seemed to be moving in extreme slow motion compared to his hyper-caffeinated mind. He once claimed to have worked for 48 hours with only 3 hours of rest in the middle.


Take a Deep Breath and Read This Sentence…


The Rotters’ Club by Jonathan Coe holds the record for containing the longest printed English language sentence. The specimen is 13,955 words long.

It was inspired by the Czech novel Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, which consists entirely of one sentence that runs for 96 pages.

Don’t List These Awards on Your Resume

finklemanIn a world that cherishes personal achievement, there are some awards you probably don’t want to have associated with your name. Here are just a few:

The Diagram Prize is awarded each year to for the book with the most unusual title. Recent winners include:

  • Strangers Have the Best Candy (2014)
  • How to Poo on a Date (2013)
  • Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012)
  • Cooking With Poo (2011)
  • Managing a Dental Practice: The Genghis Khan Way (2010)

The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest (not to be confused with the Lyttle Lytton Contest mentioned in this post) is awarded for deliberately writing the worst opening sentence to a novel. Here are some recent recipients:

  • When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered – this had to mean land! – but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.” (2014)
  • As he girded himself against the noxious, sulfurous fumes that belched from the chasm in preparation for descent into the bowels of the mountain where mighty pressure and unimaginable heat made rock run in syrupy rivers, Bob paused to consider the unlikely series of events that had led him to become the Great God Vulcan’s proctologist.” (2014 special award)
  • “As he told her that he loved her she gazed into his eyes, wondering, as she noted the infestation of eyelash mites, the tiny deodicids burrowing into his follicles to eat the greasy sebum therein, each female laying up to 25 eggs in a single follicle, causing inflammation, whether the eyes are truly the windows of the soul; and, if so, his soul needed regrouting.” (2012)
Bloom County by Berke Breathed
Bloom County by Berke Breathed

The Razzie Award is given for the worst work in motion pictures. In 2013 The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part II won the Razzie for Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Screen Ensemble, Worst Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel, and Worst Screen Couple. One good thing that came out of this movie’s near-sweep of all of the Razzie awards that year is that it conclusively proved for all time that vampires really do suck.

It Always Pays to Plan Ahead

Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)
Sir Max Beerbohm (1872-1956)

Sir Max Beerbohm is best remembered as an English essayist and caricaturist. Perhaps more attention should be paid to his practice of planning ahead. As he was getting ready to draw his last breath, Beerbohm said, “You will find my last words in the blue folder.”

As it turned out, those were his last words.

First Impressions Are So Important

first-linesThe Lyttle Lytton Contest honors the author who writes the worst opening line to his or her novel. It is named in honor of Edward George Bullwer-Lytton, who opened his 1830 novel Paul Clifford with the immortal words, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Recent winners include:

  • 2014 – “‘Together, we will beat them all,’ she whispered, caressing the circlet-girt fontanelles of her #royalbaby.” (Alex Thorpe)
  • 2014 honorable mention — “Birth defects affect us all, but particularly families with children who have birth defects.” (Rowan Jacobs)
  • 2013 – “The men greeted each other, wearing various smiles on their faces.” (Noah MacAulay)
  • 2012 – “Agent Jeffrey’s trained eyes rolled carefully around the room, taking in the sights and sounds.” (Davian Aw)
  • 2011 – “The red hot sun rose in the cold blue sky.” (Judy Dean)
  • 2010 – “”I shouldn’t be saying this, but I think I’ll love you always, baby, always,” Adam cried into the email. ” (Shexmus Amed)
  • 2009 – “The mighty frigate Indestructible rounded the Horn of Africa and lurched east’ard.” (Pete Wirtala)
  • 2008 – “Because they had not repented, the angel stabbed the unrepentant couple thirteen times, with its sword.” (Graham Swanson)
  • 2007 – “It clawed its way out of Katie, bit through the cord and started clearing.” (Gunther Schmidl)
  • 2006 – “This is the cipher key for all that follows: |||||| || |!” (P. Scott Hamilton)
  • 2005 – “John, surfing, said to his mother, surfing beside him, ‘How do you like surfing?’ ” (Eric Davis)
  • 2004 – “This is the story of your mom’s life.” (Rachel Lambert)
  • 2003 – “For centuries, man had watched the clouds; now, they were watching him.” (Stephen Sachs)
  • 2002 – “The pain wouldn’t stop, and Vern still had three cats left.” (Andrew Davis)
  • 2001 – “Turning, I mentally digested all of what you, the reader, are about to find out heartbreakingly.” (Top Changwatchai)

In addition to the main contest, others are offered from year to year. The winners of those are:

  • Freeform contest, 2007 – “Scaling Everest was, by far, the most amazing and transformative experience of my life. Unfortunately, this is a thesis on context-free grammars.” (Jonathan Blum)
  • Paragraph contest, 2006 – “The evil Intergalactic Emperor surveyed the destruction he wrought. ‘Booyah!’ he cried with glee. ‘I’m in ur base! I’m killing all ur mans!’ ” (James Wall)
  • Paul Clifford contest, 2003 – “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. Steeling himself for battle, Fyandor, the oldest and bravest of the lamps, proclaimed, ‘Nay, foul wind, this will not be the night of our extinguishment!’ ” (anonymous)
  • Last line contest, 2002 – ” ‘Lawd a’mighty,’ howled Caleb, to the consternation of those few who still remained in the helpless, drifting lifeboat, ‘some of y’all are lookin’ mighty tasty!’ ” (Mark Silcox)