My New Literary-Trivia Book — and the Results of That ‘Best Novels of All Time’ Poll!

Did you know that the phrase “keeping up with the Joneses” originally referred to the wealthy family in which novelist Edith Wharton (nee Jones) grew up? That Jane Austen wrote a differently titled version of Pride and Prejudice more than 15 years before it was published? That Shakespeare and Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes died on almost the same day in 1616? That O. Henry coined the term “banana republic”? That Dorothy Parker bequeathed her money to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? That the 1950s Cat in the Hat character created by Dr. Seuss looks like a feline version of the Uncle Sam character drawn by that same writer/artist for his 1940s editorial cartoons?

I didn’t know most of the above before I started work on my just-published Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia. That was back in 2011 — which means I researched, wrote, and rewrote the book for nearly as long as its title.  🙂

Before continuing to discuss the book and its back story, I wanted to mention that the results of that “Best Novels of All Time” poll is at the end of this column. I also posted the results this past Friday in the comments section under my March 26 piece announcing the poll, but thought I’d post them again today.

Anyway, the Fascinating Facts book is not a collection of my weekly columns from this 2014-launched blog. Rather, it’s new material about authors that I gleaned from reading biographies, reading scholarly introductions to novels, looking at online author sites, etc. — plus I included my recollections of seeing a few authors (such as Isaac Asimov and John Updike) in person. All this in short, easy-to-read chapters (more than 100 of them), with humor here and there.

In the book, every featured author — from Austen and Alcott to Zola and Zora (Neale Hurston) — is deceased, though I mentioned many authors who haven’t passed in passing. (BTW, today is Emile Zola’s birthday — he turns 177.) I should add that a number of novelists in the book were recommended to me by you in your wonderful comments here and on Facebook.

I came up with the idea for Fascinating Facts in mid-2011. At the time, I was blogging about literature for The Huffington Post, and one of the site’s editors asked me to put together a book-related “slideshow” feature (for no pay, of course — meaning I never accepted another of those very-work-intensive assignments). I decided I would focus on interesting author facts, and the feature was so popular that it occurred to me there might be a book in it.

Why did it take nearly six years? Well, I first contacted literary agents with the idea and some sample chapters. A few expressed a bit of interest, but none were willing to represent me and try to sell the book to a major publisher. So I just kept continuing to write it when I could, but life got in the way and made it a slower process than it should have been. My memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional came out in 2012, and I spent a lot of time trying to market that. My French professor wife Laurel Cummins started a three-year term as chair of her department, which meant my (enjoyable!) stay-at-home parenting of Maria took even more hours. I was also busy with this blog, my weekly humor column, my work on the National Society of Newspaper Columnists board, a move to an apartment from a house I had lived in for 21 years, etc.

And of course it took a while to research the lives of more than 100 authors, and to make sure I read at least one (and often several) of the novels they wrote — if I hadn’t read them before I started to work on Fascinating Facts.

I finally finished the book last fall. Given that I was not happy with the small press that published Comic (and Column) Confessional, I decided to go the self-publishing route this time. My friend and exceptional author Cathy Turney (who has commented under blog posts here) recommended the Let’s Write Books company run by Howard VanEs. Howard turned out to be incredibly helpful, talented, knowledgeable, and friendly. He, his copy editor, his designer, and others made the book read and look better than I would have imagined.

Fascinating Facts — available in paperback and Kindle versions — can be ordered here. If you buy it and like it, I’d be grateful for an Amazon review. And if you want to also give it as a gift, please do.  🙂

Now…here are the poll results! I looked at every top-ten-novels list I saw in the comments section under my March 26 column and elsewhere in response to that column (and also factored in my own list; alas, my favorite novel — Jane Eyre — didn’t make the cut). Then I gave first-place picks 10 points, second-place choices 9 points, etc. The overall top ten:

1. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky: 49 points

2. Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen and To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee: 35 points apiece

3. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck: 33 points

4. Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller: 23 points

5. The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Dostoyevsky, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, and The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald: 20 points apiece

6. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy L. Sayers: 18 points

7. A Hero of Our Time (1840) by Mikhail Lermontov: 17 points

8. The Good Earth (1931) by Pearl S. Buck: 16 points

9. Wuthering Heights
(1847) by Emily Brontë: 14 points

10. Kindred (1979) by Octavia E. Butler: 13 points

As it turned out, most of the above authors and novels are featured or mentioned in my new book.  🙂

Any reaction to the poll results? Any literature-related trivia, anecdotes, oddities, or coincidences you’d like to mention? Any other comments?

The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone.

In addition to doing this weekly blog, I also write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column — now with Baristanet.com, which covers Montclair, N.J., and nearby towns. The latest weekly column is here.

82 thoughts on “My New Literary-Trivia Book — and the Results of That ‘Best Novels of All Time’ Poll!

    • Thanks so much, Jean! The designer did a great job on the cover. 🙂 (BTW, the book includes a James Joyce chapter that mentions his “Dubliners” collection, which you had recommended to me a while back — and I’m glad you did!)

      “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Crime and Punishment” ARE fantastic novels, in their very different ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I catching-up on your post it has been a while since I last visited–got busy then lost a friend so I just don’t come out as much as I used to. Thank the G-ds that there are still some blogs, such as this, that serve as an escape from the craziness.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks for visiting again, Jack, and very sorry about the loss of your friend. I think I remember you mentioning that sad event on your blog.

          As you know, this blog and its commenters have occasionally slammed America’s Predator-in-Chief. But, yes, for the most part we discuss literature and other assorted things here and try to forget, for a moment, that America is run by a bunch of disgusting politicians and corporations.

          Like

  1. Dave, tomorrow I am planning to get the book from Amazon, I don`t want to wait the copies might get sold out for those excellent reviews. Also I love the brilliant cover, smart idea.

    I just started reading ” Rose gold” by Walter Mosley, his brilliant writings makes it so interesting from page one.

    This article is not related but thought to share in Trump Country, where Steve Bannon is really not gone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks again, bebe, for your interest in the book and the mention of the Amazon reviews! And I agree about the cover — the designer did a wonderful job.

      Walter Mosley IS quite an author. I greatly enjoyed “Devil in a Blue Dress” and “A Red Death” after you recommended the Easy Rawlins series to me.

      And thanks for the link to that powerful/depressing piece.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Much appreciated, bebe! I hope you enjoy the book!

          I liked “A Red Death” a lot. As you know, the second novel in the Easy Rawlins series — set in 1953, I think, with partly a McCarthy-era theme.

          Like

  2. Dave, I keep having problems posting, so this comment is really aimed at J.J., but I thought I had better luck replying to a comment rather than a new one, but that theory has been blown out of the water. Anyway, to make things a bit shorter, J.J., I hope you enjoy “Gaudy Night” if you ever get through your myriad of unread books — I can relate as I’ve got the same problem, made worse by the feeling that a bright shiny new object is somehow better than what I already have. Sayers is much more than a mystery writer (in the mold of Golden Age crime novelists such as G.K. Chesterton or Cecil Day Lewis), even though she thought her best work was a translation of Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” Note to Dave: my copy of your new book won’t arrive until next week, so did you include this fact in your chapter about Sayers? 🙂 “Gaudy Night” was the seminal work for me about feminism in the early 1970’s.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kat Lib, sorry about your sporadically continuing posting problems.

      I totally agree that Dorothy L. Sayers is more than a mystery writer (not that there’s anything wrong with that 🙂 ). She’s literary, feminist, and other good things.

      Ha! I did not include that fact about you and “Gaudy Night,” but it’s a good one!

      In the ’70s, I’m thinking the feminist or partly feminist novels that had a big impact on me included Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre,” Anne Brontë’s “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” and Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening,” among others.

      Like

      • Dave, I just lost another comment but this time I really think it was me! I was thinking about other feminist works, and there were many who shaped my thinking, such as the Brontes, Jane Austin, George Eliot, Edith Wharton, and most recently, ” The Golden Notebook,” and “Small Changes,” by Marge Piercy. There were also non-fiction books such as “The Second Sex,” by Simone de Beauvoir. But I must have been influenced by authors, such as L.M. Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Kate Douglas Wiggins, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Louisa May Alcott, and Anna Sewell. These women really paved the way, I think, for other women authors. Some of these women happened to be mystery writers, so I’ll include in my list the other women crime writers that meant so much to me, starting with Agatha Christie, who was (or is) the bestselling author on the planet! Josephine Tey, Ngaio Marsh, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell,

        Liked by 1 person

        • You named some terrific authors and books, Kat Lib!

          George Eliot, L.M. Montgomery, and various other writers you mentioned definitely had feminist aspects to/in their lives, their books, and their protagonists. Heck, just writing a novel was basically a feminist act for women “back in the day.”

          While I first read it in the 2010s rather than the 1970s, I found “The Mill on the Floss” to be Eliot’s most feminist work. And I feel the semi-autobiographical “Emily” trilogy was Montgomery’s most feminist work.

          Liked by 1 person

    • Howdy, Kat Lib!

      — J.J., I hope you enjoy “Gaudy Night” if you ever get through your myriad of unread books . . . Sayers is much more than a mystery writer (in the mold of Golden Age crime novelists such as G.K. Chesterton or Cecil Day Lewis) —

      Thanks! I am more familiar with the Golden Age of Science Fiction, the Golden Age of Comic Books, and “The Gilded Age” of Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner than with the Golden Age of Crime Fiction, but I do look forward to reading “Gaudy Night.” (Eventually.)

      J.J.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. sorry to be a spoil-sport, dave, but, to keep it to _ten_ books, you have to trim #s 8, 9, and 10 from your list. Here’s that revision, limiting the list to 10 books.

    1. Crime and Punishment (1866) by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
    2-3 TIE: Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen and
    To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee: 35 points apiece
    4. The Grapes of Wrath (1939) by John Steinbeck: 33 points
    5. Catch-22 (1961) by Joseph Heller: 23 points
    6-8TIE:. The Brothers Karamazov (1880) by Dostoyevsky,
    Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain, and
    The Great Gatsby (1925) by F. Scott Fitzgerald: 20 points apiece
    9. Gaudy Night (1935) by Dorothy L. Sayers: 18 points
    10. A Hero of Our Time (1840) by Mikhail Lermontov: 17 points

    why? consider that any book tied in the top list got a point more or less, that would bump one from a list where aggregates count as one. the _only_ time you can extend a list is if there is a tie for Nth place. just a nit-picker, but as you are the list-maker, stick to your guns.

    by the way, this suggestion breaks my rule #1: my advice is “never give any”

    btw #s 9 & 10 (on this list) will get my attention. 4 of top 5 (not P&P) having been read.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear you, applemcg. 🙂 Technically, you’re absolutely correct, but I decided to stretch the rules a bit.

      If you get to it, I think you’ll enjoy “Gaudy Night” quite a bit. A little on the long side for a mystery (400-plus pages, if I’m remembering right), but SO well written and very interesting.

      Couldn’t find “A Hero of Our Time” in my local library yesterday. Hoping for better luck next time…

      Like

  4. Dave,
    Here’s the interesting (to me, at least) bit of author trivia that I uncovered this weekend and mentioned to you on Facebook.

    After listing my 10 favorite novels on your previous blog post, I was curious to read more about Mary Stewart (whose book Nine Coaches Waiting I included on that list). I knew little about her, but was familiar with the photo of her that appears on many of her books. With her string of pearls and serene expression she looks very proper, very suited to her name “Mary Stewart.” So I was surprised to learn her maiden name was Rainbow. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never met anyone with that last name. Maybe it’s more common in the UK–but it seems to suit the magical quality of her writing or at least to suggest that there was another side to her.

    I also learned, from a different source (an internet acquaintance and fellow fan), that she married her husband just three months after meeting him for the first time. Since this is basically what happens in several of her novels (not quite love at first sight, but very nearly) it was interesting to speculate that she was drawing on her own experience. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those ARE two very interesting facts, Sheila! I’ve also never met anyone with the last name “Rainbow” — all I’m reminded of is the “Rainbow Loom” craft set that has been popular among kids the past few years. 🙂 And “love at second sight” or “love at third sight” sometimes works, I guess.

      Thank you for that trivia!!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I had never encountered that surname myself, so I looked it up.

      FWIW: at ancestry.com they report: “English: altered form of an Old French personal name, Rainbaut, composed of the Germanic elements ragin ‘counsel’ + bald ‘bold’, ‘brave’. The form of the name has been affected by folk etymological association with the vocabulary word rainbow.”

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Congratulations, Dave! What a feeling of accomplishment it must be to see your hard work come to fruition. I bought the Kindle edition tonight after I got home from work. I also want to get the print edition. I would think there would be a lot of people who are interested in literary trivia; I certainly am. I can’t wait to start reading 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Pat, thanks so much for your kind words — and for buying the book! I appreciate it a lot!

      Trivia, whether literary or otherwise, does seem to be something that interests many people (at least I hope so 🙂 ).

      Looking at your top-ten list of last week, I see that the book features a number of authors you named — Orwell, Steinbeck, Twain, Maugham, Emily Brontë. Plus the “bonus” part of the book that can be downloaded for free includes Harper Lee!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, starting tomorrow I’ve got a couple of days off, so I’ll be settling in and reading “Fascinating Facts” … we’re having lots of April showers this week, so it’s perfect reading weather 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, Pat! I hope you enjoy the book!

          Plenty of rain here, too — which is indeed good for reading (but bad for my younger daughter’s soccer and softball practices and games 🙂 ).

          Like

  6. Hi Dave, I’ll join in the many congratulation on your new book! Very exciting that it has finally been birthed after all that time you spent researching and writing it, not to mention picking cover art and other things that might seem insignificant, but I know that’s not the case at all. And as I’ve said before, I love trivia of all sorts especially when it comes to things I love, like books, music, and art. So I’m getting ready to head over to Amazon to order three copies, one for me and two for gifts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Kat Lib, for your generous words! Greatly appreciated! And so nice of you to buy three copies.

      Among the chapters I imagine you might especially like are the ones on Jane Austen and Dorothy L. Sayers. 🙂 It was fascinating for me to learn more about those two amazing authors.

      Thanks again!

      Like

      • As you probably can figure out, I already have read quite a few biographical books and essays about both of these well-loved authors. I’m looking forward to your book, because I’m sure there are many things I’ve not remembered or that are new to me. Is there also a chapter on Agatha Christie? I’ve got two books on my shelves, “Agatha Christie from A to Z” and “Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks.” So I guess I’m somewhat obsessive about favorite authors, but I’m always eager to learn more!

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks, Kat Lib!

          I’m sure you know TONS more about Jane Austen and Dorothy L. Sayers than what my book offers. 🙂 In order to feature many authors (more than 100, with many other authors mentioned in passing), I made each chapter quite short — but interesting, I think. And, yes, there is also an Agatha Christie chapter!

          Like

  7. I’m going to be a part of the gaggle ganging up on you here to also say: Congratulations on the new book! I will get around to acquisition soon.
    Hope you sell thousands! Heck, millions, as long as I’m hoping– might as well go big…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, jhNY, for the very kind words (and the alliteration 🙂 )! A chapter in the book you might especially like is the one on Giuseppe di Lampedusa. And the very interesting “Cranford” novel you recommended to me is mentioned in the Elizabeth Gaskell chapter.

      As for sales, I’m just hoping for hundreds. To misquote Gabriel Garcia Marquez, “One Hundred Tiers of Sell-itude”…

      Thanks again!

      Like

    • Thank you very much for the congratulations, Almost Iowa!

      Hmm…not a bad idea to publish some excerpts. Maybe an entire chapter in addition to what I did in the first paragraph of this week’s blog post. Could do that here and on Facebook.

      Would you like to name a few of your favorite deceased authors? I’ll pick one that’s in the book, and paste the chapter in a comment box below your reply.

      Liked by 1 person

          • The chapter:

            Polish Author Wrote His Polished Work in English

            Joseph Conrad (born Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) was Polish, but wrote his books in English despite not speaking that language fluently until he was an adult. Few authors were as successful writing in their non-native tongue.

            Actually, English was Conrad’s third language, having learned French as a youth.

            “Youth” was one of Conrad’s famous short stories, and his many novels included Lord Jim and Heart of Darkness—the latter inspiring Francis Ford Coppola’s famous Apocalypse Now movie.

            Like Herman Melville, Conrad (1857-1924) spent a lot of time at sea before becoming a published writer, and that experience later infused a number of his works—as did his move to England.

            Like

  8. A great number of accomplishments and a whole lot of joy. The joy of one more book completed, but oh so much more to reflect upon. What a lot of hard work and effort. You must be feeling truly full, satisfied with life, and I hope it is all a great pleasure to look back upon. I can only think of you as smiling and resting in a big easy chair today. You deserve a very big Congratulations, Dave! All my best wishes! Those 5 *****s on Amazon already are a good place to start….What a good way to start a week.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for your very generous words, hopewfaith! Greatly appreciated — and eloquently stated!

      I think I might have rested a minute or two after finishing the book. 🙂 I had to start the marketing part of things, and it’s not really my comfort zone. To me self-promotion seems kind of boastful, but what can one do? Heck, when I was posting this column and importing the image of the book cover, I cringed when it came out so large, and at the very top of the column.

      All in all, I much prefer the writing part of doing a book!

      Will of course mention the book each week at the bottom of future columns, but will not make it the main theme of columns very often. Will return to my usual literature-themed topics starting next week.

      Thank you again!

      Like

  9. Howdy, Dave!

    — Any reaction to the poll results? —

    Sure. But my biggest reaction was actually not to the aggregated list but to the individual lists underlying it, which I employed to create yet another list, namely, “The Top 10 List of Novels to Consume After I Devour the Six Bookcase-Feet of Volumes Now on My Shelves”:

    10. “And Then There Were None” by Agatha Christie (bebe).
    9. “The Leopard” by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (jhNY).
    8. “To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf (Daedalus Lex).
    7. “The Brothers Karamazov” by Fyodor Dostoevsky (bobess48).
    6. “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov (elenapedigo).
    5. “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing (roswarren).
    4. “The Woman in White” by Wilkie Collins (Sue at Work).
    3. “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren (PatD).
    2. “Gaudy Night” by Dorothy L. Sayers (Kat Lib).
    1. “Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte (You).

    — Any other comments? —

    “Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time: The Book Lover’s Guide to Literary Trivia”: I love it!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, J.J.! Loved your clever, generous, interesting, diverse top-ten-list offshoot (and the introduction to it, and the funny ending to that intro). 🙂 Must have taken you a lot of time to compile.

      Also, I appreciate the kind words about my book! Very glad you liked it!

      Like

      • Howdy, Sue at Work!

        — I’m curious about whether these are re-reads for you, or first time around? —

        It will be the first time around for me in each of these 10 cases, although I had intended to read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” a few decades ago during my Russian Period. Apparently, Anton Chekhov, Nikolai Gogol, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Leo Tolstoy and Ivan Turgenev all ganged up and prompted me to make other plans back then.

        Meanwhile, I am looking forward to getting to Wilkie Collins’ “The Woman in White” in about 2020, the Good M42 Bus willing!

        J.J.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I’m entering this conversation just briefly, J.J. and Sue. J.J., I think you will LOVE “The Woman in White” (in three years 🙂 ). That fantastic novel briefly made Wilkie Collins as popular or more popular than his friend Charles Dickens.

          Like

          • — I think you will LOVE “The Woman in White” . . . That fantastic novel briefly made Wilkie Collins as popular or more popular than his friend Charles Dickens. —

            That’s only because Chucky couldn’t coin a button-friendly slogan more snappy than “Win With Wilkie.” (“What The Dickens?” just didn’t have the same resonance.)

            Liked by 1 person

          • It’s ok, Dave. I’m sure you can enter your own blog whenever you feel like it and for as long as you like 🙂

            JJ, when I first read your comment, I hoped it was a first read for you, as you’re in for a real treat with the Wilkie Collins novel – and then I noticed that you had my name after it! I’d love to know what you think when you do get around to it (there are no bad busses allowed on this blog).

            Poor Fyodor. That’s some serious competition ganging up on him!

            Liked by 1 person

            • — Poor Fyodor. That’s some serious competition ganging up on him! —

              Very true. I am happy Vladimir Nabokov, Alexander Pushkin and Yevgeny Zamyatin chose to remain neutral. Otherwise, I would not have been able to read F.D.’s “Crime and Punishment,” “Notes From the Underground,” “The Eternal Husband” and “The Double”!

              Liked by 1 person

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