It was published in the summer of 1969 and ostensibly written by one Penelope Ashe.
By October 13th of that same year, Naked Came the Stranger had already sold 90,000 copies, becoming a bestseller.
By November of that same year, when sales of the book only continued to increase, the real authors for some silly reason began to feel guilty — at which point they revealed a startling fact: this book was a literary hoax.
In actuality, Naked Came the Stranger was written by a group of journalists, the ringleader of whom was one Michael McGrady, an excellent columnist for Newsday magazine. His stated intention was “to write a deliberately terrible book with a lot of sex, to illustrate that popular American literary culture had become mindlessly vulgar.”
With the help of twenty-four of his colleagues, each of whom wrote a chapter and at least one of whom was a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, he succeeded beyond his wildest expectations.
Reportedly, after the book was finished, editors had to dumb the book down because the writing was too good.
Naked Came the Stranger was published by a man named Lyle Stuart, an actual publisher known for putting out slightly trashy and controversial books. Stuart took the cover — without permission — from a from a Hungarian nudist magazine, the model and photographer of which later asked for and received emoluments.
The moral of the story?
I don’t always love his literature, but I love his individuality, his originality, his inexhaustible inventiveness, his arrant hatred of authoritarianism, his mad genius — Philip Kindred Dick (nom-de-guerres Richard Phillipps and Jack Dowland), philosophical novelist who bridged the science-fictional and the historical, drug-user, drug-abuser, paranoiac, self-described “acosmic panentheist,” twin brother to Jane Charlotte Dick, both born six weeks premature (December 16, 1928), Jane Charlotte Dick who died six weeks later and whom he would forever after in his stories call his “phantom twin,” Philip Kindred Dick, who twice won the coveted Hugo, who battled hallucinations and money all his life, and who, in his 1980 short-story collection The Golden Man, so touchingly said of fellow science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein:
Several years ago, when I was ill, Heinlein offered his help, anything he could do, and we had never met; he would phone me to cheer me up and see how I was doing. He wanted to buy me an electric typewriter, God bless him—one of the few true gentlemen in this world. I don’t agree with any ideas he puts forth in his writing, but that is neither here nor there. One time when I owed the IRS a lot of money and couldn’t raise it, Heinlein loaned the money to me. I think a great deal of him and his wife; I dedicated a book to them in appreciation. Robert Heinlein is a fine-looking man, very impressive and very military in stance; you can tell he has a military background, even to the haircut. He knows I’m a flipped-out freak and still he helped me and my wife when we were in trouble. That is the best in humanity, there; that is who and what I love.
Philip K. Dick — December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982 — RIP.
There are many reasons — many more than five — that I’ll keep reading your story.
But there are also at least as many reasons I won’t.
(For example: He had nothing in the way of a like God-concept, and at that point maybe even less than nothing in terms of interest in the whole thing; he treated prayer like setting an over-temp according to a box’s direction. Thinking of it as talking to the ceiling was somehow preferable to imagining talking to Nothing. And he found it embarrassing to get down on his knees in his underwear, and like the other guys in the room he always pretended his sneakers were like way under the bed and he had to stay down there a while to find them and get them out, when he prayed, but he did it. — David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest)
Here, then, in no particular order, are five reasons I will:
1. You can sustain a long sentence.
I like long sentences that sing. I always have. It’s become cliche these days to talk about “simplicity in writing” and “clarity is king” and so forth — and it’s incontestably true that clarity is the principle thing: you must make yourself understood. But in delicate hands, long sentences are the opposite of unclear: they are the very acme of clarity. Here’s an example:
“If it made any real sense — and it doesn’t even begin to — I think I might be inclined to dedicate this account, for whatever it’s worth, especially if it’s the least bit ribald in parts, to the memory of my late, ribald stepfather, Robert Agadganian, Jr.” — J.D. Salinger, De Daumier Smith’s Blue Period
A writer who can sustain a long sentence is a writer who thinks clearly.
2. You’ve given me something to fret over
You’ve established a series of obstacles that in reason interest readers, and you’ve doled that information out gradually, feeding it to readers step-by-step, in a way that keeps us hungry for more. The obstacles your characters encounter are not inconsequential or meaningless obstacles — i.e. your lead character’s biggest conflict is not what color she should paint her nails — but you’ve instead asked yourself: are my characters’ values important enough for readers to fret over?
3. Your plot shows your inexhaustible imagination
Plot — true plot — is difficult. It’s plausible but unpredictable. It presents a sequence of events that progresses logically and builds toward a climax. Note that: your plot should build. It can build slowly, as in Anna Kerenina, or quickly, as in Raiders of the Lost Ark. This means, among other things, that your plot culminates in a climax. Climax is the point at which your plot brings together all the major elements of your story and then explodes. Good plots are not action alone. They are an integration of action and ideas. Good plots do not just raise questions. They raise questions and answer them, which in turn raises more questions which are in turn answered, and so on. That is partially what I mean when I say that plot is “a sequence of events that progresses logically yet unpredictably.” Good plots, through a process of satisfying your curiosity and then piquing it more, keep you wondering. They hook you and reel you in. “Good plots stem from characters under adversity,” wrote Crawford Killian.
4. Your story is about something
This means you’ve woven meaning into your story. (This, incidentally, is one of the many links between literature and philosophy.) That meaning can be purely historical, like Gone With the Wind, or it can be abstract, like Bladerunner. It can be a basic love story with a road plot, like Wild at Heart, or a love story with a horror plot, like House of Leaves. It is, in any case, a story about something — a story that appeals to things real within the body of the human experience, or “the human heart,” to use Faulkner’s beautiful phrase.
5. Your characters are believable AND remarkable
Readers like reading about exceptional people. We’re fascinated by antagonists like Hannibal Lecter and Mr. Frost, who are infernal but formidable, wicked but outstanding.
Readers are equally or more fascinated by protagonists like Sherlock Holmes or Ellen Ripley, who are rarified but entirely human.
Yet it’s difficult to create believable characters like this.
Part of the trick is to develop a storyline (i.e. plot) that can showcase your characters’ virtues and vices. (It is in this sense that I refer to plot as a vehicle.)
Another part of the trick is to be able to show your characters’ motivation. In a real sense, the process of creating memorable characters is nothing more — or less — than showing what motivates them. This means that you know your characters inside and out, every bit as much as you know, for example, the human heart.
Truman Streckfus Persons was Truman Capote’s real name.
The title Finnegans Wake contains no apostrophe in the word Finnegans. Thus Finnegans is a plural and Wake is a verb.
Issac Newtons’s father was illiterate.
Walt Whitman’s mother was illiterate.
Roald Dahl was an anti-semite.
Djuna Barnes had no formal education at all.
Edmund Wilson once proposed marriage to Djuna Barnes. Who declined.
Dostoevsky’s father was the resident physician at a hospital for the poor, but he treated his own serfs so abominably that they murdered him.
John Paul Sartre and Albert Schweitzer were cousins.
Christina Rossetti died a virgin.
“Keat’s piss-a-bed poetry,” Lord Byron called it.
H.G. Wells was an anti-semite.
Voltaire was illegitimate.
Evelyn Waugh was found dead on the bathroom floor.
Djuna Barnes was an anti-semite.
Three of Wittgenstein’s brothers committed suicide.
Tolstoy ranked Guy de Maupassant as second only to Victor Hugo as the greatest European writer of his day.
As an editor, T.S. Eliot rejected Animal Farm.Lionel Johnson died after falling off a barstool.
Tennyson was reading Cymbeline when he died. (His copy of the play was put into his coffin.)
Stephen Crane was the catcher on his Syracuse University baseball team.
Chekov was an anti-semite.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge was bullied as child.
As was Percy Shelley. Who once went after his bullies with a pitchfork.
Ernest Hemingway was an anti-semite.
Mohammed was an anti-semite.
Immanuel Kant was an anti-semite.
W.B. Yeats was an anti-semite.
Being a successful reader of poetry on stage is not necessarily the same thing as being a writer of successful poetry. Said Anna Akhmatova.
Whose book of poems Requiem she memorized and did not write down for fear of the Russian Communist regime that would destroy her work.
“That man writes really too sloppily,” said James Joyce of D.H. Lawrence.
When Joseph Conrad was twenty-years-old, he tried to commit suicide over his gambling losses. In later life, he let people believe the bullet wound had come from a duel.
Zeno, famous for his paradoxes, hanged himself after breaking his toe. At age ninety.
Best first sentence for a novel about a lovely librarian who secretly burns the books she loves because she wants no one else to read them.
And the winner is — but before I announce the winner, let me say something about the selection process:
Invariably when I choose a winner for the Best First Sentence Contest (and this is number 6, I believe) I come under a certain amount of fire from some for my selection — this despite the fact that I’m the one creates the prompt, reads the entries, and pays the prize money out of my bartender wages, and am happy to do so. Honestly, I love it. I love these contests, and I’m delighted with how popular they’ve become. I plan to run them forever.
I’m not going to attempt to explain my tastes and my criteria in full. I only want readers to know this:
I’m looking at these entries as best first sentence to a book.
I mention that, though it might seem obvious, because I think it’s easy to lose sight of: I myself have lost sight of it. There are, in other words, many sentences that are excellent in and of themselves, but they just don’t quite have first-sentence power. Thus a sentence like the following, which I loved and chose as a finalist:
Lisa, the lovely librarian, looked at the pile of dying embers that used to be her favourite books and thought, ‘there, now you are where you belong, with the lovers who wanted to leave me.’ (Mark Knowles)
This one didn’t ultimately have as much first-sentence power as the following, by doc jim:
She had never thought of herself as possessive.
Or this one, by Jeanne:
“She found it at once — and almost by instinct — nestling at a coquettish angle between Mansfield Park and Doctor Zhivago as if to say, “I’ve been waiting for you to kiss me goodbye.”
Those, incidentally, were both runner-ups.
But the winner is Tara:
I imagined paperbacks would burn the fastest, but it’s actually the old threaded hardcovers that immediately turn to ash.
Please stay-tuned for the next contest.
My thanks to you all.
A reader writes:
Dear Sir: A friend recommended your book to me a while ago and it literally took me over a year to read! It is so philosophical and I’m not an abstract person. But you made me think, I will give you that. My question is, how do YOU define philosophy?
Dear Paul S: The definition of philosophy — judging, at least, from very nearly every philosophical dictionary on the planet — has confounded philosophers for centuries, the concept being “too large,” it is sometimes said, to properly capture in concise fashion. Yet at the same time, in all branches of philosophy, minutia is cataloged to complete weariness.
This fake problem is nothing more than skepticism and its little bitch postmodernism running amok again. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, for instance, a thoroughly postmodern compilation, says this:
“Some readers might be surprised to find that there is no entry simply on philosophy itself. This is partly because no short definition will do.”
That statement — and all others like it — is flatly false.
Philosophy is this: the science of rudiments and foundations. It is the study of fundamentals.
A philosophy is an organized system of ideas and arguments.
Etymologically, the word, as you know, comes from the Greek term philia (meaning love) or philos (meaning friend or lover); and sophia (meaning wisdom).
A fellow by the name of Diogenes Laertius claims that the term “philosopher” was coined by Pythagoras, in place of the word “sophist,” which meant “wise man.” But Diogenes Laertius was squirrelly, and his Pythagorean claim is dubious.
Oxford — evidently not as equivocal as Cambridge — defines philosophy thus:
“The investigation of the most general and abstract features of the world and the categories with which we think, in order to lay bare their foundations and presuppositions.”
Not bad, not bad. Better still, however, is Penguin’s philosophy dictionary, which says that philosophy “studies the most fundamental and general concepts and principles involved in thought, action, and reality.”
And yet the best of them all comes not from a philosophical dictionary, exactly, but from a man named Désiré-Félicien-François-Joseph Mercier — a.k.a. Cardinal Mercier — the late nineteenth-century thinker, who spoke well when he spoke thus:
“[Philosophy] does not profess to be a particularized science [but] ranks above them, dealing in an ultimate fashion with their respective objects, inquiring into their connexions and relations of these connexions.”
Philosophy, Mercier continues, “deserves above all to be called the most general science” (A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy).
Lexically, here’s all one really needs to know:
Philosophy comes first, and last. Philosophy is the alpha and the omega. It is the most fundamental science because it studies the foundations of all subsequent knowledge, and that is why all the other sciences depend upon it: because knowledge forms a hierarchy.
For humans, to live is to think.
Philosophy provides an ultimate context — a gauge — for human knowledge. It systematizes the proper methods by which we are able to know.
And that is the definition of philosophy.
Thank you for writing, and thank you for reading my book.
[The following is a repost:]
A reader writes:
Dear Sir: Why do rabbits and eggs represent Easter, which also celebrates the resurrection of Christ?
Dear Peter: Easter primarily represents the advent of springtime, just as Christ’s resurrection does. The Old-English word Eastre derives from an Anglo-Saxon Pagan goddess named Eostre, about whom very little is known. What we do know about her comes to us from the Benedictine monk Bede (672-735 A.D.), also sometimes referred to as the Father of English History.
In Bede’s On the Reckoning of Time, he mentions a goddess named Eostre, and he tells us that the Anglo-Saxons had at one time worshiped this goddess during the spring equinox.
Apart from Bede, no other reference to Eostre exists. Indeed, even in Bede’s time, she had long since faded away. The fact, however, that Eostre was worshiped during the spring equinox does suggest something significant.
Quoting the genius priest-poet Gerard Hopkins:
What is spring?
Growth in everything.
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle-blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod and sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing
With that world of good,
As you of all people would know, Peter, rabbits and hares are notorious breeders, and no doubt you’re familiar with the saying “to fuck like bunnies.” This sedate and venerable expression comes about because lagomorphs mature sexually at very young ages. They are also capable of superfetation, which means they can conceive a second time while still pregnant, and thus they are able to give birth to two litters. This actually happens many times throughout the year, although spring seems to make these little girls and guys particularly crazy. The females are extraordinarily fertile, and that is eggsactly why they symbolize springtime.
Rabbits and hares represent breeding and birth. Eggs also have obvious fertility-birth-and-blood connotations, and for this reason, they have represented fertility and spring since the dawn of humankind.
Do rabbits produce eggs? No, they do not. The good lady Eostre did, however, once putatively save a freezing bird at the end of winter, by turning this bird into a hare, which hare because it had once been a bird could then lay eggs, whereas I can only suck them, as you can see.
Dying Easter eggs and the source of this eggsellent tradition is a mystery, though the Ancient Greeks did color eggs green (to symbolize new grass) and red (to symbolize blood).
Birth. Blood. Death. Winter. Resurrection. Rebirth. Spring. Life.
“There is nothing greater than life,” said Voltaire.
That is what Easter is about.
The early Christians understood this. So they kept many of the Pagan symbols of spring; they absorbed them, as it were, in part, perhaps, because these symbols are so primal and so beautiful.
It is, after all, a beautiful world we live in.
Happy Easter, Peter.