Hoax Museum Blog: Books

The Art of Fake News

I have a new book to add to my reading list of hoaxes. It's Broadcast Hysteria: Orson Welles's War of the Worlds and the Art of Fake News, by A. Brad Schwartz, in which he re-examines the 1938 Panic Broadcast by looking at the letters sent to Welles himself in the days after the broadcast. Schwartz has also posted a list over at huffpost of ten times when "fake news made real news." more…

Posted: Mon May 11, 2015.   Comments (0)

Posted: Wed Sep 11, 2013.   Comments (1)

Fifty Shades of Grey not a Guantanamo favorite — Strange thing for a US congressman to have been claiming. Especially since, according to reports, Fifty Shades of Grey isn't even in the prison library at Guantanamo.

Guantanamo Fifty Shades of Grey claim denied by lawyer
BBC News

A lawyer for a detainee at Guantanamo Bay's highest-security section has rubbished reports that Fifty Shades of Grey is a favourite read among inmates. A US congressman made the claim last month after visiting Camp 7, saying it showed the inmates were "not exactly holy warriors".
Lawyer James Connell says guards this week gave a copy of the erotic novel to his client, possibly as a joke. But 9/11 accused Ammar al-Baluchi had no interest in the book, he said.

Posted: Thu Aug 22, 2013.   Comments (0)

Bonsai Kitten—The Book — Remember Bonsai Kittens — the hoax about growing kittens in a jar? It seems that they've finally made their way from the internet into print, serving as the title for Lakshmi Narayan's new novel.

I would have expected that a novel titled "Bonsai Kitten" would be a work of gross-out fiction aimed at young men. But not so! Narayan was inspired by the idea of a Bonsai Kitten to write a work of serious literary fiction about the struggles of young brides in Indian society. Here's the book description on Amazon:

"I'm nothing but a bonsai kitten!" thought Divya despairingly. Bonsai kitten — a pervert's contention that just as plants can be stunted, so can living beings. And wasn't that the guiding principle behind procuring a suitable girl? Catch her young when she is malleable like playdough, so she can be twisted and mangled to your liking. This way, she knows her place and stays there. At the lowest stratum. But little does Divya suspect that the Cosmic Jester, that celestial imp who specializes in tripping up humans, has other plans for her. Plans that include a roller-coaster ride from Delhi to Mumbai to Singapore, with tears and laughter, betrayal and friendship, loss and rebirth, as her companions. And through it all, she would have to fence with that master puppeteer to reclaim her destiny. Lakshmi Narayan makes a spunky literary debut with a novel that will find... several echoes and resonances, not just with women but also from men who want to understand us a little better.

The Hindu has an article about the book, revealing that it took Lakshmi 17 years to complete the book, and discussing why she chose Bonsai Kittens as a metaphor:

Romance she wrote
The Hindu

The bonsai metaphor: "Once, my dog's vet sent me an email about a crazy thing she found on the internet called 'bonsai kitten'. Apparently, one could put a newborn kitten into a jar and inject it with some chemicals through a probe to soften its bones. Eventually, the cat takes the shape of the bottle. Later we found it was a hoax. But that title bonsai kitten stuck with me," says the author. Lakshmi used it as a metaphor to talk about the plight of young Indian brides. "This is what is required of an Indian bride. Catch the woman young, mould her to your liking, train her to be obedient and keep her at the bottom of the rung," says Lakshmi.

Posted: Thu Mar 07, 2013.   Comments (1)

Donny and Marie Join the Klan? — I've noticed that a picture of this book, Donny and Marie Join the Klan, has recently been doing the rounds online.

Just in case anyone might have thought this was a real book, no, it wasn't. The original was Donny and Marie - The Top Secret Project, published in 1977. Clever alteration.

Posted: Fri Feb 08, 2013.   Comments (1)

A Disposition to Be Rich, by Geoffrey Ward — A new book to add to my reading list:

A Disposition to Be Rich

Geoffrey Ward’s cagily titled book, A Disposition to Be Rich, about his great grandfather isn’t so much written as lived in. In colorful and remarkable detail it chronicles the brazen exploits of Ferdinand Ward, “the best-hated man in the United States” and the pre-eminent Ponzi schemer of the Reconstruction Era. Not only did Ferd swindle former President Ulysses S. Grant out of millions in today’s dollars – making Grant a near-pauper as he was dying of tongue cancer – but Ferd’s greed also caused the collapse of several banks and the embarrassment of any number of high-ranking politicians and businessmen.

Posted: Wed May 09, 2012.   Comments (0)

Two new hoax-themed novels — Two new novels involve hoaxes as their central theme. So they might be of interest to hoaxologists.

prague cemetery
The first novel is The Prague Cemetery, by Umberto Eco. From the Irish Independent's review:

Eco illuminates an age like no other writer -- the era in this case being fin de siecle Paris, its filthy streets bristling with communists, conspirators and con men, Jesuits and Freemasons, and, most of all, Jews. The novel was heavily criticised in its native Italy for having an anti-semitic narrator whose repulsion for Jews permeates every page, but that misses the point. (Or perhaps makes it.) No one can escape their time and place...

The narrator is Captain Simonini, a forger and double agent who undertakes to relate his story in order to fill in the puzzling gaps which have started appearing in his memory.

It's a common theme of Eco's work... the difference here being that the conspiracy exists nowhere except in the minds of the narrator and others like him, men whose mistrust of Jews is so great that Eco ends up crediting Simonini with authorship of the notorious forgery The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion, which purportedly lays out a Jewish plot to take over the world. The document infamously inspired Hitler.

This ultimate postmodern joke, of a forger who believes his own mental fantasies to such an extent that he ends up creating them, is a typical Eco conceit.

poor man's wealth
The second novel is Poor Man's Wealth by Rod Usher. It tells the story of the small town of Higot that dreams up a hoax (a mysterious outbreak of narcolepsy) as a way to attract tourism. From the review in the Melbourne's Sunday Age:

Somewhere in the backwaters of an unnamed Spanish-speaking country lies Higot, a dirt-poor tobacco town where the sky "pours down its yellow heat on to the bones of the dead and the living". Rumours from beyond the mountains that tobacco may not be that good for you are scorned by Higot's poor farmers as a perfidious slur, but they're nervous because even if smokers aren't dying, their town certainly is. Then Higot's leading citizens secretly plot an ingenious wheeze: they will create a "sleep myth" to attract the world's attention - and maybe some of its money. It is a flagrant hoax but soon half the village is playing its unwitting part in a remarkable outbreak of narcolepsy.

Usher's premise reminds me of Vilcabamba, the small town in Ecuador that attracted international attention back in the 1970s because many of its residents claimed to be over 100, until it turned out that most of them were lying about their age.
Posted: Mon Jan 02, 2012.   Comments (0)

Sons of Clovis —
There's a new hoax-related book out that sounds interesting: The Sons of Clovis: Ern Malley, Adore Floupette and a Secret History of Australian Poetry by David Brooks. From the Sydney Morning Herald review:
At the heart of the book is the famous Australian hoax, the Ern Malley affair, in which two young, still-forming poets, McAuley and Stewart, fabricated the raw, working-class identity Ern Malley, only to have him die tragically young, leaving behind his book of experimental poems, The Darkening Ecliptic (1944).
Equally - and this is where the detective work really kicks in - the book is also about a late- 19th-century literary hoax that produced the wonderfully foppish Adore Floupette, ''poet of the decadent school … with nothing but scorn for the public''. Floupette, whose voice ''could be heard from one end of the cafe to the other'', reciting the ''ternaries that he had composed over dinner: 'I would love to be gaga/With my heart adrift/On the syringa flower.'
'''Gaga!' came from one of the ladies who until then had kept the profoundest silence. 'But my poor dear, you are already.'''
It's Brooks's achievement to compel us into considering the (improbable, possible) links between these two hoaxes.
I'm not sure if it's being published anywhere but Australia, though this won't be an issue if you're willing to pay international shipping.
Posted: Mon Oct 24, 2011.   Comments (4)

Fakers — There's another new book out to add to my library of hoaxes. It's Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders by Paul Maliszewski. From the product description:

From James Frey and his fake memories of drug-addled dissolution to Stephen Glass and his fake dispatches from the fringes of politics to the author formerly known as JT LeRoy and his fake rural tough talk, we are beset by real-seeming fiction masquerading as truth. We are living in the era of the fake.
Fakers is a fascinating exploration of the varieties of faking, from its historical roots in satire and con artistry to its current boom. Paul Maliszewski journeys into the heart of our fake world, telling tales of the New York Sun's 1835 moon hoax, the invented poet Ern Malley (the inspiration for Peter Carey's novel My Life as a Fake), and Maliszewski's own satiric letters to the editor of the Business Journal of Central New York (written, unbeknownst to the editor, while he worked there as a reporter). Through these stories, he explains why fakers almost always find believers and often flourish.

One of these days I'm going to get around to adding a bibliography of books about hoaxes to the museum. It's on my list of things to do. But right now I'm busy working on revising and updating Hippo Eats Dwarf for an English edition that should be out sometime this year (assuming I get the revisions done on time).
Posted: Mon Jan 05, 2009.   Comments (3)