Review: Literary Hoaxes by Melissa Katsoulis

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The ultimate reader’s-guide to the works that fooled publishers, readers, and critics the world over. When Dionysus the Renegade faked a Sophocles text in 400 BC (cunningly inserting the acrostic “Heraclides is ignorant of letters”) to humiliate an academic rival, he paved the way for two millennia of increasingly outlandish literary hoaxers. The path from his mischievous stunt to more serious tricksters like the fake Howard Hughes “autobiography” by Clifford Irving, Oprah-duper James Frey, takes in every sort of writer: from the religious zealot to the bored student, via the vengeful academic and the out-and-out joker.

But whether hoaxing for fame, money, politics, or simple amusement, each perpetrator represents something unique about why we write. Their stories speak volumes about how reading, writing, and publishing have grown out of the fine and private places of the past into big-business, TV-book-club-led mass-marketplaces which, some would say, are ripe for the ripping.

People create literary hoaxes for a number of reasons. Some are looking to trick the “experts”, some are looking to get noticed, some are truly not in touch with reality. These hoaxes seem to happen even in the age of the Internet, though they tend to not go as far as some older hoaxes did. The fascinating part is how the hoaxes themselves reflects how eager people are for a good story, even one that seems too good to be true. Some of these hoaxes actually changed the course of literary movements. Any way around it it’s interesting to see the bold, insane, or mercenary creators of some of the most famous literary hoaxes. Some are likable, some are pitiable, some are simply distasteful, but they all made their mark if just to make the literary world a little more wary before swallowing a good story.

4 out of 5

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