The title of North Carolina native Jason Mott‘s “Hell of a Book” — recent winner of the National Book Award for fiction — reminded me of a story (possibly apocryphal, though perhaps not probably) about the acclaimed writer and UNC professor Max Steele.
A former student sent a copy of his new novel to Max for a blurb. Read it, hated it, wrestled with how to comment without dishonoring himself. His solution: “Damndest book I ever read!”
I hope the author was pleased — after all, that’s how Faulkner (in a letter to his Aunt Bama)– described his own “The Sound and the Fury.”
“Faulkner was a highly intelligent man. It sounds silly to say it. But people pay no attention to it.
“And a dumb fellow, a fellow who was pretty thick in the head, like Thomas Wolfe, he pays a big price for that lack of intelligence. It keeps him from being Faulkner.”
— Shelby Foote, quoted in “Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers” by Dannye Romine Powell (1994)
On this day in 1933: University of North Carolina freshman Walker Percy flunks the English placement test.
“I had just finished reading Faulkner’s ‘The Sound and the Fury,’ ” Percy will recall half a century later, “and I wrote my placement theme in a Faulknerian style — no capitalization, no punctuation. They put me in the retarded English class, and the professor really thought I was hot stuff. Compared to the rest of the dummies, I guess I was.”
Percy will graduate from Chapel Hill and from Columbia University medical school, but he becomes best known for writing such novels as “The Moviegoer,” “The Last Gentleman” and “Love in the Ruins.”
Did a Mississippi plantation diary acquired by J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton for the Southern Historical Collection in 1946 inspire William Faulkner’s depiction of Yoknapatawpha County?
So posits the author of “Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Plantation Diary,” who spoke at Wilson Library in 2010.
Now, however, Sally Wolff-King’s much-praised book is being labeled a “hoax.” Further literary color — as if it were needed! — is provided by the debunkers’ claims of having been bullied for making their case.
Tip ‘o the Miscellany Mortarboard: Maria Bustillos at The Awl.