Tuesday 30 November 2010

A Present from a Pal: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Here's a book given to me by my good friend and colleague Roly that, as Roly himself noted when he gave it to me, is neither scarce, nor valuable, nor indeed any edition or printing of note:

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, published in paperback by Penguin in the UK in 1981, although this is the reprint from the same year. The story behind it is, Roly and I were up in London following a meeting, and I was dragging him round the second hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road. In one of those, Roly spied this book, and mentioned it was brilliant and that I should read it. I, however, had the scent of first editions in my nostrils, so I pretty much ignored him and headed down to the basement to browse the shelves down there instead (I know, I'm a charmer aren't I?). When I came back up again, he was at the till, buying the book. He then turned around and handed it to me. Which was really rather sweet of him, and for which I've wanted to thank him properly ever since. So Roly, consider this post your (slightly public, possibly permanent) thank you.

True to form I haven't read it yet, but I'm planning on doing so very soon. I was actually vaguely aware of it before Roly gave it to me, as it cropped up in a book I worked on recently in my Ilex Press managing editor capacity – 500 Essential Cult Books. Turns out it was down to Roly that A Confederacy of Dunces made it into 500 Essential Cult Books in the first place – and that the entry on it was written by him. Cheeky blighter. Anyway, famously Toole committed suicide in 1969, despairing that he couldn't find a publisher for his only novel. A carbon copy of the manuscript was later discovered by his mother, who harangued author Walker Percy into reading it. Percy eventually did, and realised that it was a work of comic genius. He managed to get it published, and it subsequently won the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and went on to sell in the millions.

The front cover illustration on this paperback is by Ed Lindlof, an art alumnus of the University of Texas who provided illustrations for a 1994 edition of Thomas Wolfe's The Lost Boy and a 2004 edition of Horacio Quiroga's The Decapitated Chicken and Other Stories. As for Roly, well he was also partly responsible for my buying the next book I'll be blogging about (probably later today), a book which should prove useful for a number of forthcoming posts...


  1. I read this when I was 17 or so and thought it was really good even though the second half fades a bit. Given that I was 17 at the time, I don't trust my judgment on the second half fading, and I imagine I missed a whole lot. I'll need to read it again at some point.

    John Waters has wanted to film this forever, but I don't think it's a good candidate for film.

    Thanks for mentioning the University of Texas connection. Hook 'em!

  2. I had to look "Hook 'em" up! What was that about colloquialisms...?