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Buy *Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame* online

Mortification: Writers' Stories of Their Public Shame
Robin Robertson
Fourth Estate
288 pages
March 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Who can resist a tome of writer's most embarrassing moments? Certainly not this reader, especially when they are couched in self-effacing humility and a touch of the irreverent. Editor Robin Robertson has selected a series of impressive writers to engage in a public dissemination of the humiliations that serve to remind us of our humanity, in spite of the trappings of success.

This anthology is virtually unputdownable. Story after story reveals the writer's various foibles and missteps, most tinged with humor rather than regret. Each new excerpt is prefaced by an apt quotation, a pithy addition to an already enjoyable sojourn through the embarrassment of others.

Originally, I intended to pick out my favorite authors in the anthology, going back to review other authors later. However, since Margaret Atwood is a longtime personal favorite and is featured in the first story, I began at the beginning. Then I found myself compulsively turning page after page, stopping frequently to smile at the absurd images of writer's in their various states of mortification.

Bernard Maclafferty's piece is so overwhelmingly pungent, I can sympathize with his means of escape...the local red wine offered by his host. On the other hand, excessive drink often contributes to the unraveling of events, certainly setting the stage for the hilarious denouement of the inebriated.

One of the most common venues for humiliation is a book reading/signing, where victims are subjected to an assortment of difficulties, from flawed PA systems to rude spectator noises to an audience numbering in the single digits. Simon Armitage, after one such disappointing adventure, with time to spare before catching a train home, discovers a copy of his earlier work in the trash, signed in his own hand, "To Mum and Dad."

Of course, beneath it all, there is the very real experience of random humiliation, when the ego overcomes rationality and even the dingiest venue offers hope. But it is the same blind courage that allows a novelist, poet or musician his impulsive creativity that encourages him to stand before an audience of one or many. Who can deny that irresistible curiosity, the hope that a reading may occasion appreciation and applause, even when Murphy's Law prevails?

© 2004 by Luan Gaines for Curled Up With a Good Book

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