Tuesday, February 13, 2007

"'Gadzooks,' quoth I, 'but here's a saucy bawd!'"

"I, Libertine was one of the all-time great literary hoaxes. It began as a practical joke by late-night radio raconteur Jean Shepherd. Shepherd was highly annoyed at the way that the bestseller lists were being compiled in the mid-1950s. These lists were not determined only on sales figures but also on requests for new books at bookstores.

"Shepherd urged his listeners to enter bookstores and ask for a book that did not exist. He fabricated the author (Frederick R. Ewing) of this imaginary novel, concocted a title (I, Libertine), and outlined a basic plot for his listeners to use on skeptical or confused bookstore clerks. Shepherd eventually proved his point that the process of choosing bestsellers was flawed.

"Bookstores became interested in carrying Ewing's novel, which reportedly had been banned in Boston. When publisher Ian Ballantine, novelist Theodore Sturgeon and Shepherd met for lunch, Ballantine hired Sturgeon to write a novel based on Shepherd's outline. Betty Ballantine completed the final chapter after an exhausted Sturgeon fell asleep on the Ballantines' couch, having attempted to meet the deadline in one marathon typing session. On September 13, 1956, Ballantine Books published I, Libertine simultaneously in hardcover and paperback editions with Shepherd seen as Ewing in the back cover photograph ...."

On a personal note, my sweet lady will forever be in my heart for a birthday gift of an original copy, which now sits prominently on my desk: an inspiration to mischievous, and frustrated, writers everywhere.

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