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The Quick 10: 10 Literary Smack-Downs, Quips, and Squabbles

There's an adage they give you when you receive your name badge at the door of Writer Land: "You only compete with yourself." While most authors hold true to this (at least in public), there are those who make time to spend bashing their fellow wordslingers. Here are ten cringe-worthy examples.

1. Mark Twain vs. Ambrose Bierce
When they asked Samuel Clemens to read and review long-time friend Ambrose Bierce's not-so-bestseller, Nuggets and Dust Panned Out in California by Dod Grile, publishers Chatto & Windus had no idea they'd get such a scathing report back. Twain calls Nuggets and Dust "the vilest book that exists in print" and ends with what might be the most simultaneously hilarious and hurtful review of all time:

"There is humor in Dod Grile, but for every laugh that is in his book there are five blushes, ten shudders and a vomit. The laugh is too expensive."

2. James Frey vs. Dave Eggers
Before his tearful apology on Oprah for passing off as a memoir his best-selling tale of addiction and redemption, and even before the book had been released, James Frey took aim at Dave Eggers and his much-hailed A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Here's what Frey said in an interview in New York Observer:

"The Eggers book pissed me off. Because a book that I thought was mediocre was being hailed as the best book written by the best writer of my generation. F**k that. And f**k him and f**k anybody who says that."

3. Ernest Hemingway vs. Ford Madox Ford.
In a letter sent to Ezra Pound in 1925, Papa Hemingway compares contemporary Ford Madox Ford to a bull in a less-than-complimentary tirade:

"Bulls at least are not the greatest stylists in English – no bull has ever been a political exile. Bulls don't run reviews. Bulls of 25 don't marry old women of 55 and expect to be invited to dinner... Bulls do not borrow money... Bulls are edible after they have been killed."

4. Stephen King vs. Stephenie Meyer
In early 2009, hot on the heels of the Twilight film's debut, Stephen King did an exclusive interview with USA Weekend in which he compared JK Rowling and Stephenie Meyer:

"The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can't write worth a damn. She's not very good."

Teenage girls 'round the world used their collective angst to... um, buy more movie tickets, I guess.

5. Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike
Bad reviews make for some cranky authors. John Updike reviewed Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown in 2005. Updike took issue with Rushdie's recycling of the name Maximilian Ophuls for his main character (the real Ophuls was an actor and director in the 1940s and 50s). In response, Rushdie quipped:

"Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called 'John Updike'... He should stay in his parochial neighbourhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do."

6. Tom Wolfe vs. "The Three Stooges"
Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike were all less than impressed with Tom Wolfe's 1998 novel, A Man in Full. They each voiced their various issues with the book in typical rival-author fashion, with Mailer comparing the work to "sex with a 300-pound woman," Irving calling the work "journalistic hyperbole described as fiction," and Updike giving what seems to be a diplomatic, if not positive, review with a piece in the New Yorker: "A Man in Full still amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form. Like a movie desperate to recoup its bankers' investment, the novel tries too hard to please us."

Wolfe wasted no time lashing back, claiming the three were "panicked" and "frightened," then compared them to slapstick comedians:

"I think of the three of them now – because there are now three – as Larry, Curly and Moe. It must gall them a bit that everyone – even them – is talking about me."

7. Mario Vargas Llosa vs. Gabriel García Márquez
Nobel laureates don't mess around. Before 1976, the two were close friends; García Márquez was the godfather and namesake for Vargas Llosa's second son. Then, at a movie premier in Mexico City, Vargas Llosa caught García Márquez in the eye with a nasty right hook on the red carpet. Though neither has officially commented on why, it is rumored that when Vargas Llosa cheated on his wife and moved to live with his mistress in Stockholm, she turned to García Márquez for "consolation" — and he advised her to divorce his friend. After the shiner incident, the two literary giants didn't speak for 31 years.

8. Oscar Wilde vs. George Meredith
In his essay, The Decay of Living, Wilde took aim at George Meredith's style, saying, "as a writer, he has mastered everything except language; as a novelist, he can do everything except tell a story; as an artist, he is everything except articulate... I would say that he is a child of realism who is not on speaking terms with his father."

9. Gore Vidal vs. Truman Capote
The two hyper-famous New York authors were once friends, but after their affection for one another wore off, neither wasted any time going for the throat. Vidal claimed to have sat on Capote at a party, mistaking him for a stool. Capote falsely said Vidal had been kicked out of the White House for insulting Jackie Kennedy's mother. Vidal claimed Capote had "raised lying to an art. A minor art." When asked about the friendship gone bad, Capote said, "I'm always sad about Gore—very sad that he has to breathe every day." The back-and-forth carried on after Capote's death, when Vidal got the last word:

"Capote I truly loathed. The way you might loathe an animal. A filthy animal that has found its way into the house."

10. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman
No feudal arena is complete without a cat fight, and these two ladies did their best not to disappoint. As a guest on the Dick Cavett show, Mary McCarthy was asked with writers she considered overrated. Among the handful was Lillian Hellman, who McCarthy said was "tremendously overrated, a bad writer, a dishonest writer, but she really belongs to the past." When urged to explain her opinion, McCarthy offered this burning blow:

"[E]very word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"

Enter the lawsuit, a messy social tangle of writers taking sides, and, perhaps most bizarrely, Norman Mailer in his new role as mediator. Mailer urged Hellman to drop the lawsuit, but four years later she died before resolving or dropping the complaint.

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11 Secrets of Bodyguards
Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images
Tullio M. Puglia, Getty Images

When CEOs, celebrities, and the extremely wealthy need personal protection, they call in men and women with a particular set of skills. Bodyguards provide a physical barrier against anyone wishing their clients harm, but there’s a lot more to the job—and a lot that people misunderstand about the profession. To get a better idea of what it takes to protect others, Mental Floss spoke with several veteran security experts. Here’s what they told us about being in the business of guaranteeing safety.

1. BIGGER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER.

When working crowd control or trying to corral legions of screaming teenagers, having a massive physical presence comes in handy. But not all "close protection specialists" need to be the size of a professional wrestler. “It really depends on the client,” says Anton Kalaydjian, the founder of Guardian Professional Security in Florida and former head of security for 50 Cent. “It’s kind of like shopping for a car. Sometimes they want a big SUV and sometimes they want something that doesn’t stick out at all. There’s a need for a regular-looking guy in clothes without an earpiece, not a monster.”

2. GUNS (AND FISTS) ARE PRETTY MUCH USELESS.

An armed bodyguard pulls a gun out of a holster
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Depending on the environment—protecting a musician at a concert is different from transporting the reviled CEO of a pharmaceutical company—bodyguards may or may not come armed. According to Kent Moyer, president and CEO of World Protection Group and a former bodyguard for Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, resorting to gunplay means the security expert has pretty much already failed. “People don’t understand this is not a business where we fight or draw guns,” Moyer says. “We’re trained to cover and evacuate and get out of harm’s way. The goal is no use of force.” If a guard needs to draw a gun to respond to a gun, Moyer says he’s already behind. “If I fight, I failed. If I draw a gun, I failed.”

3. SOMETIMES THEY’RE HIRED TO PROTECT EMPLOYERS FROM EMPLOYEES.

A security guard stands by a door
iStock

Workplace violence has raised red flags for companies who fear retribution during layoffs. Alan Schissel, a former New York City police sergeant and founder of Integrated Security, says he dispatches guards for what he calls “hostile work termination” appointments. “We get a lot of requests to provide armed security in a discreet manner while somebody is being fired,” he says. “They want to be sure the individual doesn’t come back and retaliate.”

4. SOME OF THEM LOVE TMZ.

For protection specialists who take on celebrity clients, news and gossip site TMZ.com can prove to be a valuable resource. “I love TMZ,” Moyer says. “It’s a treasure trove for me to see who has problems with bodyguards or who got arrested.” Such news is great for client leads. Moyer also thinks the site’s highly organized squad of photographers can be a good training scenario for protection drills. “You can look at paparazzi as a threat, even though they’re not, and think about how you’d navigate it.” Plus, having cameras at a location before a celebrity shows up can sometimes highlight information leaks in their operation: If photographers have advance notice, Moyer says, then security needs to be tightened up.

5. THEY DON’T LIVE THE LIFE YOU THINK THEY DO.

A bodyguard stands next to a client
iStock

Because guards are often seen within arm’s reach of a celebrity, some think they must be having the same experiences. Not so. “A big misconception is that we’re living the same life as celebrities do,” Kalaydjian says. “Yes, we’re on a private jet sometimes, but we’re not enjoying the amenities. We might live in their house, but we’re not enjoying their pool. You stay to yourself, make your rounds.” Guards that get wrapped up in a fast-paced lifestyle don’t tend to last long, he says.

6. SOMETIMES THEY’RE JUST THERE FOR SHOW.

For some, being surrounded by a squad of serious-looking people isn’t a matter of necessity. It’s a measure of status on the level of an expensive watch or a fast car. Firms will sometimes get calls from people looking for a way to get noticed by hiring a fleet of guards when there's no threat involved. “It’s a luxury amenity,” Schissel says. “It’s more of a ‘Look at me, look at them’ thing,” agrees Moyer. “There’s no actual threat. It’s about the show. I turn those down. We do real protection.”

7. THEY CAN MAKE THEIR CLIENT'S DAY MORE EFFICIENT.

A bodyguard escorts a client through a group of photographers
iStock

Because guards will scope out destinations in advance, they often know exactly how to enter and exit locations without fumbling for directions or dealing with site security. That’s why, according to Moyer, CEOs and celebrities can actually get more done during a work day. “If I’m taking you to Warner Bros., I know which gate to go in, I’ve got credentials ahead of time, and I know where the bathrooms are.” Doing more in a day means more money—which means a return on the security investment.

8. “BUDDYGUARDS” ARE A PROBLEM.

When evaluating whether or not to take on a new employee, Kalaydjian weeds out anyone looking to share in a client’s fame. “I’ve seen guys doing things they shouldn’t,” he says. “They’re doing it to be seen.” Bodyguards posting pictures of themselves with clients on social media is a career-killer: No one in the industry will take a “buddyguard” seriously. Kalaydjian recalls the one time he smirked during a 12-year-stint guarding the same client, something so rare his employer commented on it. “It’s just not the side you portray on duty.”

9. SOCIAL MEDIA MAKES THEIR JOB HARDER.

A bodyguard stands next to a client
iStock

High-profile celebrities maintain their visibility by engaging their social media users, which often means posting about their travels and events. For fans, it can provide an interesting perspective into their routine. For someone wishing them harm, it’s a road map. “Sometimes they won’t even tell me, and I’ll see on Snapchat they’ll be at a mall at 2 p.m.,” Kalaydjian says. “I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”

10. NOT EVERY CELEBRITY IS PAYING FOR THEIR OWN PROTECTION.

The next time you see a performer surrounded by looming personal protection staff, don’t assume he or she is footing the bill. “A lot of celebrities can’t afford full-time protection,” Moyer says, referring to the around-the-clock supervision his agency and others provide. “Sometimes, it’s the movie or TV show they’re doing that’s paying for it. Once the show is over, they no longer have it, or start getting the minimum.”

11. THEY DON’T LIKE BEING CALLED “BODYGUARDS.”

A bodyguard puts his hand up to the camera
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Few bodyguards will actually refer to themselves as bodyguards. Moyer prefers executive protection agents, because, he says, bodyguard tends to carry a negative connotation of big, unskilled men. “There is a big group of dysfunctional people with no formal training who should not be in the industry,” he says. Sometimes, a former childhood friend can become “security,” a role they’re not likely to be qualified for. Moyer and other firms have specialized training courses, with Moyer's taking cues from Secret Service protocols. But Moyer also cautions that agencies enlisting hyper-driven combat specialists like Navy SEALs or SWAT team members aren't the answer, either. “SEALs like to engage and fight, destroying the bad guy. Our goal is, we don’t want to be in the same room as the bad guy.”

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13 Fascinating Facts About Nina Simone
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Nina Simone, who would’ve celebrated her 85th birthday today, was known for using her musical platform to speak out. “I think women play a major part in opening the doors for better understanding around the world,” the “Strange Fruit” songstress once said. Though she chose to keep her personal life shrouded in secrecy, these facts grant VIP access into a life well-lived and the music that still lives on.

1. NINA SIMONE WAS HER STAGE NAME.

The singer was born as Eunice Waymon on February 21, 1933. But by age 21, the North Carolina native was going by a different name at her nightly Atlantic City gig: Nina Simone. She hoped that adopting a different name would keep her mother from finding out about her performances. “Nina” was her boyfriend’s nickname for her at the time. “Simone” was inspired by Simone Signoret, an actress that the singer admired.

2. SHE HAD HUMBLE BEGINNINGS.


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There's a reason that much of the singer's music had gospel-like sounds. Simone—the daughter of a Methodist minister and a handyman—was raised in the church and started playing the piano by ear at age 3. She got her start in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, where she played gospel hymns and classical music at Old St. Luke’s CME, the church where her mother ministered. After Simone died on April 21, 2003, she was memorialized at the same sanctuary.

3. SHE WAS BOOK SMART...

Simone, who graduated valedictorian of her high school class, studied at the prestigious Julliard School of Music for a brief period of time before applying to Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. Unfortunately, Simone was denied admission. For years, she maintained that her race was the reason behind the rejection. But a Curtis faculty member, Vladimir Sokoloff, has gone on record to say that her skin color wasn’t a factor. “It had nothing to do with her…background,” he said in 1992. But Simone ended up getting the last laugh: Two days before her death, the school awarded her an honorary degree.

4. ... WITH DEGREES TO PROVE IT.

Simone—who preferred to be called “doctor Nina Simone”—was also awarded two other honorary degrees, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Malcolm X College.

5. HER CAREER WAS ROOTED IN ACTIVISM.

A photo of Nina Simone circa 1969

Gerrit de Bruin

At the age of 12, Simone refused to play at a church revival because her parents had to sit at the back of the hall. From then on, Simone used her art to take a stand. Many of her songs in the '60s, including “Mississippi Goddamn,” “Why (The King of Love Is Dead),” and “Young, Gifted and Black,” addressed the rampant racial injustices of that era.

Unfortunately, her activism wasn't always welcome. Her popularity diminished; venues didn’t invite her to perform, and radio stations didn’t play her songs. But she pressed on—even after the Civil Rights Movement. In 1997, Simone told Interview Magazine that she addressed her songs to the third world. In her own words: “I’m a real rebel with a cause.”

6. ONE OF HER MOST FAMOUS SONGS WAS BANNED.

Mississippi Goddam,” her 1964 anthem, only took her 20 minutes to an hour to write, according to legend—but it made an impact that still stands the test of time. When she wrote it, Simone had been fed up with the country’s racial unrest. Medger Evers, a Mississippi-born civil rights activist, was assassinated in his home state in 1963. That same year, the Ku Klux Klan bombed a Birmingham Baptist church and as a result, four young black girls were killed. Simone took to her notebook and piano to express her sentiments.

“Alabama's gotten me so upset/Tennessee made me lose my rest/And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam,” she sang.

Some say that the song was banned in Southern radio stations because “goddam” was in the title. But others argue that the subject matter is what caused the stations to return the records cracked in half.

7. SHE NEVER HAD A NUMBER ONE HIT.

Nina Simone released over 40 albums during her decades-spanning career including studio albums, live versions, and compilations, and scored 15 Grammy nominations. But her highest-charting (and her first) hit, “I Loves You, Porgy,” peaked at #2 on the U.S. R&B charts in 1959. Still, her music would go on to influence legendary singers like Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin.

8. SHE USED HER STYLE TO MAKE A STATEMENT.

Head wraps, bold jewelry, and floor-skimming sheaths were all part of Simone’s stylish rotation. In 1967, she wore the same black crochet fishnet jumpsuit with flesh-colored lining for the entire year. Not only did it give off the illusion of her being naked, but “I wanted people to remember me looking a certain way,” she said. “It made it easier for me.”

9. SHE HAD MANY HOMES.

New York City, Liberia, Barbados, England, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands were all places that Simone called home. She died at her home in Southern France, and her ashes were scattered in several African countries.

10. SHE HAD A FAMOUS INNER CIRCLE.

During the late '60s, Simone and her second husband Andrew Stroud lived next to Malcolm X and his family in Mount Vernon, New York. He wasn't her only famous pal. Simone was very close with playwright Lorraine Hansberry. After Hansberry’s death, Simone penned “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” in her honor, a tribute to Hansberry's play of the same title. Simone even struck up a brief friendship with David Bowie in the mid-1970s, who called her every night for a month to offer his advice and support.

11. YOU CAN STILL VISIT SIMONE IN HER HOMETOWN.

Photo of Nina Simone
Amazing Nina Documentary Film, LLC, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

In 2010, an 8-foot sculpture of Eunice Waymon was erected in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina. Her likeness stands tall in Nina Simone Plaza, where she’s seated and playing an eternal song on a keyboard that floats in midair. Her daughter, Lisa Simone Kelly, gave sculptor Zenos Frudakis some of Simone’s ashes to weld into the sculpture’s bronze heart. "It's not something very often done, but I thought it was part of the idea of bringing her home," Frudakis said.

12. YOU'VE PROBABLY HEARD HER MUSIC IN RECENT HITS.

Rihanna sang a few verses of Simone’s “Do What You Gotta Do” on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo. He’s clearly a superfan: “Blood on the Leaves” and his duet with Jay Z, “New Day,” feature Simone samples as well, along with Lil’ Wayne’s “Dontgetit,” Common’s “Misunderstood” and a host of other tracks.

13. HER MUSIC IS STILL BEING PERFORMED.

Nina Revisited… A Tribute to Nina Simone was released along with the Netflix documentary in 2015. On the album, Lauryn Hill, Jazmine Sullivan, Usher, Alice Smith, and more paid tribute to the legend by performing covers of 16 of her most famous tracks.

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