John Kennedy Toole

John Kennedy TooleOn this day in 1937, the great writer John Kennedy Toole was born. Other than his juvenilia, he is only known for one thing, A Confederacy of Dunces. But what a thing! Everyone seems to know the story of how the book was published: his suicide and his depressed mother’s pursuit of its publication. I can’t speak to the cause of Toole’s finally unraveling. I’m sure if he had found a publisher — especially if the book had done as well as it would when it finally was published — it would at least have extended his life. But I suspect there was more going on than a general depression brought on by a lack of professional success.

In preparation for this post, I spent an hour going through my books, looking for my copy of A Confederacy of Dunces. I couldn’t find it. I did find two copies of Kaufmann’s translation of Faust — which is okay, given one of them is in pieces. (I don’t know why I haven’t thrown it out.) And I found at least five copies of Dr Faustus — which is not okay, because I was collecting them because I had this idea of producing it at some point. But no Confederacy. I must have loaned it out to someone to read.

This is something that I do, especially with this book. No intelligent American should be able to go through life without reading A Confederacy of Duncesat least once. It is a wonderful book. And I don’t even mean in the sense that it is brilliant with a great feel for language. I mean it in the sense that it is a very funny book. You will enjoy it! Let me go further: you will enjoy it from the first page!

You have to ask yourself an important question, “Why am I reading Frankly Curious when I could be reading A Confederacy of Dunces?” There are really only two acceptable answers. First: “Because it is only now that you have opened my eyes!” Second: “I have already read it!” I appreciate your readership. But I’m more than willing to wait. A Confederacy of Dunces is a very special book — especially for the kind of people who come around here. (You should take that as a compliment.)

Happy birthday John Kennedy Toole!

8 thoughts on “John Kennedy Toole

  1. My excuse is I am an unlettered lout who has too many books to read from your recommendations already. :D

    • Okay, but this is another — potentially as important as Don Quixote. It is such a wonderful book — and hilarious. Although I have to admit that both are very much “guy” kind of books.

      • I did notice your recommendations are a bit on the masculine side. It might be why I am mostly feeling sorry for poor Don Quixote and getting angry at the people who hurt him or others because of his actions. I suspect I am not reading it right.

        • I think that’s a natural reaction at the beginning. But Don Quixote is also such bad news for almost everyone he runs into that it is hard to stay too sympathetic. Ultimately, it is Sancho who I most relate to. He’s just a working guy trying to do right by his family. It’s also interesting how Sancho becomes co-dependent in Don Quixote’s delusions. But the great thing about the book is all of its characters. One thing about Don Quixote: mostly, he never realizes that people are making fun of him. That is a gift.

          • Much like how one might feel sympathy for the mentally ill until they start sending you blood splattered letters.

            • That’s very true. I’m sure you’ve read the part at the beginning where he finds the guy whipping a young man who is little more than a slave. The end of the that story is told at the end of the book. And Don Quixote has a frightful temper. But he is so wonderful strange that you can’t help loving him — as long as he stays in literature.

              • Yes and the cynic in me was like “well I know what is going to happen.” However I am glad to hear it gets resolved by the end.

                • That’s part of what makes DQ the first modern novel — he ties up a whole lot of things at the end. Of course, it doesn’t really matter. Although the end works pretty well.

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