The Madman’s Library


“It was all too easy,” he said. “It all went too smoothly. America, you sit there, you plump beauty, still buying neckties from sidewalk sharpies, still guessing which walnut shell contains the pea… America, I sometimes worry about you.”

Sad but true words from Mike Mc Grady, whose 1966 hoax was inspired by the success of trashy sex novels (think Jaqueline Susann and Harold Robbins). He recruited 24 writers to collaborate on a deliberately terrible sexy book warning them, “Fine writing will be expurgated”.

In two weeks they produced Naked Came The Stranger – and you guessed it, it was an insane success, even more so when it was revealed that it was a hoax. 

The chapter on Literary Hoaxes in The Madman’s Library is full of good stuff.  Fake news was alive and well in 1874, when the New York Herald carried this report:


And then there was the Comte de Fortsas Affair in 1840, when rare book dealers from all over Europe descended on a small Belgian town to bid for a magnificent private library, containing previously unknown works of immense value and some scandalously indecent ones about Louis XIV’s bottom (illustrations included).  The only problem was that nobody in the town had ever heard of the Comte, his library or the auction. The catalogue for the sale has now become a collector’s item itself.

If literary hoaxes aren’t your thing, how about Books That Aren’t Books, Books Made of Flesh and Blood, Books Of Spectacular Size, or Strange Titles?

There are hours of harmless fun in The Madman’s Library. It’s a very handsome book, too. It would make a great gift for the right person.


9 thoughts on “The Madman’s Library

  1. Very interesting post, dear friends! Lies (fake news) are abundant in our human history. Hope you are doing very well. My best wishes to you both! 🙂

  2. A couple of customers ordered copies of this book as gifts in the run-up to Christmas, and I recall admiring it at the time – it’s really beautifully produced!

    Interesting comments too about the fake news phenomenon being alive and kicking in the 19th century. We recently read Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop for our book group and were surprised to discover just how much many of the issues with our current media (fake news, sensationalist reports, journalists driving the stories in the absence of anything else etc. etc.) were also present in the 1930s, albeit in a different context.

    1. Yes, the book is interesting on newspapers inventing stories on a slow news day, as in the case of “Savage Brutes At Large”. I suppose the big difference is that they didn’t have Facebook and Twitter then and when people didn’t see any savage brutes they stopped believing it.

  3. I often thought that about some American literature that was coming out. I too tried to write some trashy novel but it didn’t get published. I guess it wasn’t trashy enough.

    1. It’s harder than you think. I always thought it would be easy to write a Mills & Boon, but lots of people have tried. Wouldn’t it be nice to lie on your sofa like Barbara Cartland and dictate this stuff without even having to think, and make loads of money?

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