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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David Lynch's Amazon T-Shirt Shop is as Surreal as His Movies
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images
Dominique Faget, AFP/Getty Images

David Lynch, the celebrated director behind baffling-but-brilliant films like Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive, and Twin Peaks, is now selling his equally surreal T-shirts on Amazon.

As IndieWire reports, each shirt bears an image of one of Lynch’s paintings or photographs with an accompanying title. Some of his designs are more straightforward (the shirts labeled “House” and “Whale” feature, respectively, drawings of a house and a whale), while others are obscure (the shirt called “Chicken Head Tears” features a disturbing sculpture of a semi-human face).

This isn’t the first time Lynch has ventured into pursuits outside of filmmaking. Previously, he has sold coffee, designed furniture, produced music, hosted daily weather reports, and published a book about his experience with transcendental meditation. Art, in fact, falls a little closer to Lynch’s roots; the filmmaker trained for years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts before making his mark in Hollywood.

Lynch’s Amazon store currently sells 57 T-shirts, ranging in size from small to triple XL, all for $26 each. As for our own feelings on the collection, we think they’re best reflected by this T-shirt named “Honestly, I’m Sort of Confused.”

Check out some of our favorites below:

T-shirt that says "Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"
"Honestly, I'm Sort of Confused"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a sleeping bird on it
"Sleeping Bird"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt that says Peace on Earth over and over again. The caption is pretty on the nose.
"Peace on Earth"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a screaming face made out of turkey with ants in its mouth
"Turkey Cheese Head"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an odd sculpted clay face asking if you know who it is. You get the idea.
"I Was Wondering If You Know Who I Am?"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an image of a sculpted head that is not a chicken. It is blue, though.
"Chicken Head Blue"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with a drawing of a lobster on it. Below the drawing, the lobster is labeled with the word lobster. Shocking, I know.
"Lobster"

Buy it on Amazon

T-shirt with an abstract drawing of what is by David Lynch's account, at least, a cowboy
"Cowboy"

Buy it on Amazon

[h/t IndieWire]

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9 Things You Might Not Know About Maurice Sendak
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Maurice Sendak's books were shaped by his own childhood: one marked by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the concentration camp deaths of most of his extended family, and parents consumed by depression and anger. When Sendak started illustrating and writing for children, he vowed that he wouldn't write stories of sunshine and rainbows, because that's not real life. In honor of what would have been his 90th birthday, here are a few other things about Maurice Sendak's real life you may not have known.

1. HE DESIGNED F.A.O. SCHWARZ'S WINDOW DISPLAYS.

Sendak and his brother visited Manhattan’s F.A.O. Schwarz in 1948 to try to get the company to purchase their handmade, fairytale-inspired wooden toys. Though the toy store declined to purchase the brothers’ work for reproduction, they were impressed with Sendak’s artistic eye and asked him if he’d be interested in a job dressing windows. He worked at F.A.O. Schwarz for three years while taking classes at the New York Art Students League.

2. WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED WHERE THE WILD HORSES ARE.

The book was intended, of course, to feature fillies, foals and mares. Editor Ursula Nordstrom adored the title, finding it poetic and beautiful, but there was one problem: Sendak couldn’t draw horses. When he told his editor that the whole horse thing wasn’t going to work out, he recalls her “acid tone[d]” response: “Maurice, what can you draw?”

“Things,” he said, and "things" he drew.

Side note: Ursula Nordstrom was also the editor of a few classics like The Giving Tree, Goodnight Moon, Harold and the Purple Crayon and Charlotte’s Web among others. Not a bad resume.

3. THE “THINGS” SENDAK ENDED UP CREATING WERE INSPIRED BY HIS IMMIGRANT RELATIVES AND THE WAY HE VIEWED THEM AS A CHILD.

“They were unkempt; their teeth were horrifying. Hair unraveling out of their noses.” Though the monsters were modeled after his family, they weren’t named after them; in fact, the things had no names in the book. They finally received monikers when Wild Things was made into an opera. “We had to have names to tell [the actors] when they were screwing up. They had Jewish names: Moishe, Schmuel. But the names were dropped after the opera. They never had names until they became movie stars.”

4. MOST OF HIS EXTENDED FAMILY DIED IN CONCENTRATION CAMPS.

It wasn't until he was older that Sendak realized how lucky those immigrant relatives were to be alive—and how lucky he was. Most of his extended family died in concentration camps, which his father discovered the day of Sendak's bar mitzvah. He attended the happy event anyway. When unknowing guests burst into "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" when Mr. Sendak walked through the door, Maurice knew something horrible had happened by his father's expression. "My father's face was vivid, livid, and I knew I had done something very bad, that I had made him suffer more than he had to. This 13-year-old ersatz man."

5. EVEN IF WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE HADN'T BEEN SUCH A HIT, YOU PROBABLY WOULD HAVE KNOWN SENDAK’S WORK ANYWAY.

Prior to the success of his own books, Sendak illustrated the popular Little Bear series by Else Holmelund Minarik.

6. ONE OF HIS BOOKS IS FREQUENTLY BANNED.

Though many parents and libraries initially protested that Where the Wild Things Are was too scary for children, it was his later book, In the Night Kitchen, that landed on the American Library Association’s frequently challenged and banned books list. It features a little boy named Mickey, who is nude throughout most of the story, likely because he’s dreaming. “Have you never had a dream, yourself, where you were totally naked?” he said, when Stephen Colbert asked him about the nudity. (Colbert: “No.” Sendak: “I think you’re a man of little imagination.”) Because of Mickey’s full frontal and some of his nude antics in the book (he jumps into a milk bottle, for instance, and later slides down it), critics have deemed it inappropriate for children. It was #24 on the ALA’s frequently banned books from 2000-2009.

7. HE WAS DEEPLY AFFECTED BY THE LINDBERGH BABY KIDNAPPING.

Sendak believed that the Lindbergh baby kidnapping very much affected his childhood, his work and his views on life in general. Though he was only 3.5 years old when the tragedy occurred in 1932, he says he vividly remembers the whole thing, including hearing Mrs. Lindbergh’s tearful voice pleading with the kidnappers via radio to rub camphor on her infant’s chest because she didn’t want his cold to get worse. “If that baby died, I had no chance. I was only a poor kid, okay? [When the Lindbergh baby was found dead,] I think something really fundamental died in me.”

8. SENDAK HATED EBOOKS.

Waiting for a sweet Where the Wild Things Are app for the iPad so your kids can explore the book in a new way? Don’t hold your breath. To say that Sendak disliked eBooks is an understatement: "F*** them is what I say; I hate those e-books. They cannot be the future ... they may well be. I will be dead, I won’t give a s***!”

9. HE NEVER CAME OUT TO HIS PARENTS.

Sendak never told his parents that he was gay. “All I wanted was to be straight so my parents could be happy,” he told The New York Times in 2008. “They never, never, never knew.” His partner of 50 years, Eugene Glynn, passed away in 2007.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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