[14 December 2010]
According to his introduction, Bill Peschel’s Writers Gone Wild is a child of the internet. It began as a collection of daily anecdotes that was in turn fueled by the easy accessibility of new stories and old books through the Web, which eventually merged into a book. Writers Gone Wild promises to feature “the feuds, frolics, and follies of literature’s great adventurers, drunkards, lovers, iconoclasts, and misanthropes,” and it pretty much delivers, albeit not in any great depth or with anything like trenchant analysis. There are a ton of little stories and vignettes in this book, most of them just a page long or so, and I could see it as a web site or a phone app, but neither of those make the best stocking-stuffers. This time of year, maybe a full on book is just what you’re looking for. Would Writers Gone Wild bring you or someone you love some holiday cheer?
Peschel organizes his encyclopedia of literary schadenfreude by theme rather than author, which I found a little off-putting at first, but which I came to see was a good decision. So while you can’t read all seven of the Hemingway stories in one place, you do get to see them alongside similar amusing gaffs and outrages by other authors. Given how generally slight and modest the stories often are, they do tend to build a cumulative force when bunched together around timeless topics like sex, money, fraud, and bad reviews. Within each theme, the anecdotes unfold chronologically, which gives a nice thrust of momentum and a general sense of, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
My main complaint with Writers Gone Wild is that, for the most part, there is very little in this book that’s particularly unique to writers or writing. This is a collection of often amusing (or at least eyebrow-raising) anecdotes involving mostly famous writers. They have to be famous, because Peschel usually doesn’t leave space for much context about who these people are and why we might care about their foibles in particular (although there’s a bibliography at the end with leads for more information about all of them). For example, a tale of two authors I’d never heard of brawling in a London pub left me bored and uninterested, as do most stories about bar fights. But I couldn’t get enough of Truman Capote dishing out biting quips on The Tonight Show, because I love me some Truman Capote archness. A nearly identical book could probably be written about sports figures gone wild, actors gone wild, or politicians gone wild. Maybe even book reviewers gone wild would be a hit (I’ve got some stories for you!).
So for the literary-minded gossip hound, Writers Gone Wild is an easy, fun read. Not every piece is a keeper. Some are too complex to follow in the short space provided, others are sort of ethereal, leaving the reader wondering what the big deal was, but most of the book is solid fun, an entertaining diversion when you’ve got a few minutes to kill. I think it might actually have worked just as well, if not better, as an app or a web site or it’s originally envisioned book of days format. It also works just fine as a book, and might make a delightful little stocking stuffer for a reader or literary snob on your holiday gift list.