Some literary curiosities inspired by Aubrey Dillon Malone’s  Stranger than Fiction (1999)


James Allen, an American  robber, left orders that after he died a copy of his autobiography, which had appeared in 1837,  be bound in his own skin and presented to one of his victims, John A. Fenno, as a sign of his remorse. After his death Fenno’s family bequeathed it to the Boston Athenaeum, where it can now be viewed.


The first poem published under the name of Dylan Thomas ( ‘His Requiem’) wasn’t his own but was copied from The Boys Own Paper. It was only after Thomas had become famous that this plagiarism was reprinted as a curiosity piece.


Mark Twain reviewed his own book, The Innocents Abroad, anonymously in 1869.


The smallest book ever printed was the 1985 reprint of the children’s story ‘Old King Cole’ by the Gleniffer Press of Paisley in Scotland. It measures 0. 9 cm high and the pages can only be turned by a needle. Eighty-five copies were printed, one of which can be bought through Abebooks for $1,045.


The eccentric French novelist George Perec (1936 – 82) wrote a book called La Disparition ( The Disappearance) in 1969 which didn’t use the letter ‘e’.  The English writer Gilbert Adair translated the text as A Void in 1995, replicating the non-‘e’ format.  Perec also wrote a novel which contains no other vowels except‘ e’. The first edition of La Disparitionis hard to find, but there is a copy of the 1979 edition in Abebooks priced at a very reasonable £205 !!


The bibliophile Maurice Hamonneau has bound a copy of  Hitler’s Mein Kampf in, appropriately enough, skunk skin. He also has a copy of All Quiet on the Western Frontbound in a First World War uniform.


In 1996 a book by a joker called Richard Ferguson called WhatMen Know About Women appeared which consisted of 200 blank pages.


Richard Templeton’s novelty item, The Quick Brown Fox (1945 ) contains 33 sentences all of which contain 26 letters of the alphabet. A copy of this very short book can be had online for a mere $10.


Jerzy Andrzejewski’s The Gates of Paradise (1960 ) has no full stops until the very last page of the book, which contains 40,000 words.


American Lord Timothy Dexter’s A Pickle for the Knowing Ones(1802) has no punctuation whatsoever. However, in 1838 he added a page onto the book which contained various grammatical appendages, such as colons, semi-colons, commas, exclamation marks etc. These, he suggested were for readers to scatter throughout the book. No copies of the first or 1838 editions of this rarity can currently be found for sale online.


When the mistress of the French writer Eugene Sue died, she willed him her skin, leaving instructions that he should bind a book with it. He obliged.


When Edgar Wallace’s The Four Just Men appeared he offered readers £500 if they could guess correctly how the murder was committed. So many correct answers poured in that Wallace did himself out of his royalties.


Crime novelist John Creasey claimed to have received 743 rejection slips from publishers before his first book was accepted in 1932. Legend has it that he typed the whole text of this book on the back of these letters.[RR]

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