Dirty Bookish Scoundrels

Andrew Shaffer’s Literary Rogues – A Scandalous History of Wayward Authors is a deliciously naughty bit of trash lit for the beach bound cultural aficionado (or those who would like to be).

Opening with a detailed and somewhat deferential summary of the Marquis de Sade’s most memorable “achievements”, Shaffer offers the reader a comprehensive overview of the bad boys (and girls) of literature.

Shaffer, a critic of modern erotica, humorist, and author of Fifty Shames of Earl Grey is a man in lust with his craft; Literary Rogues reads as a fiery reminiscence of the “good old days” when uncontrolled drinking and opium use was rampant amongst any author worth his weight in parchment, and “sodomy was a crime punishable by death”.  Though the book maintains the informal tone of a raunchy paperback, it is downright scholastic in its conclusion: thirty-two pages of endnotes, a full bibliography, and index – just incase you have any concerns as to whether Shaffer is creatively elaborating (a la James Frey – Chapter 25).

In addition to being meticulous, Shaffer’s timing is ideal; with Baz Lurhmann’s take on The Great Gatsby slated to open the Cannes Film Festival in a few weeks, audiences are piqued to turn their curiosity toward the personal life of F. Scott Fitzgerald and explore the illicit details of his famed, decadent lifestyle.

The research into this work is impressive in its scope and thorough in its presentation, resulting in a piece that lives up to its title. Potential readers be warned:  the subject matter is undeniably “scandalous”.    Two hundred and forty five pages of sex, drugs, alcohol and debauchery were frankly a little much for this reader, and by the time I had reached a postscript lamenting the lack of admirable baddies in today’s intellectual elite, it was impossible to remember which author was the absinthe addict and which playwright had kept a secret stash of lovers in the basement.

Sentence structure within the book errs on the side of chatty and conversational, as would be expected from a man who earned his first Huffington Post byline with a recap of how he, as an “out of shape” author, wound up in a HarperCollins contest to be on the cover of a romance novel.   Literary Rogues is peppered with f-bombs and a-holes – direct quotes from the rogues themselves, and within the running commentary from Shaffer.  It is written with the self-aware humour of someone who sees comedy in wanting to be a writer, and feels a subtle bond with the shockingly high percentage of our literary masters who have been depressed, self-medicated, and straight up insane.