Small social deaths: the literary gaffe (and a literary sofa, and a literary giant)

I’ve been reading Isabel Costello’s post, The Literary Guilt and Inferiority Quiz. It’s a follow-on from Will Self’s Guardian article about the death of the novel.

Does the current climate really demand the easy option in all media — do we all choose quick reads and eschew anything intellectually demanding? I’m not so sure that an adaptable and evolving species can be summed up in such apocryphal terms, but right now I’m going to weaken my own personal viewpoints by avoiding sensible discussion and focusing on her questions.

The one that stands out for me is

Question 15: Have you ever embarrassed yourself whilst discussing books?

Here’s my answer:

At every opportunity.

The first time, I was 13. It was the school holidays and I was visiting a friend. Away from school, we’d been reading Jackie, Cosmo and the like — and although I loved them, I figured they weren’t great literature.

One night, her parents hosted a party and her very lovely author-grandad asked what I was reading.

“Oh, nothing much,” I said, “just magazines and -”

“And?” he was genuinely interested.

I’d been going to say ‘crap’, but I didn’t want to say ‘crap’ to a grandad, and right there and then, I forgot every other word in the dictionary. “Ummm,” I said, “dollop.”

As if ‘dollop’ wasn’t bad enough, HE THOUGHT I SAID TROLLOPE.

What happened next was a lesson in small and painful social deaths, as he talked about Trollope and I made the transition from thinking he was talking about dollops to realising that I had the intellect and social skills of a raisin.

I have not used the word ‘dollop’ since, but this blog post is a very freeing experience so from now on, I might.

Image attribution.  


  1. racheljfenton says:

    Arguably the best use of the word dollop – you’ve raised it from mere verbage to the literary heights of Trollope – and for that I salute you!

  2. Cool post. I remember reading Trollope like Palomino from Jackie Collins, I think, when I was 12 or 13, just for the steamy scenes. My BFF passed them off to me. I am surely glad I was the only reader in my family. Don’t know what I would have said to that question!

  3. Chris says:

    I have to agree with Rachel’s comment. A marvelous way to use the word dollop. Literary gaffes. Sigh. Around the age of 13 (what is it about that age?), I attempted to take part in a discussion about George Eliot’s novels. I don’t remember what pithy comment I made, but I do remember the looks on my friends’ faces when I referred to Ms. Eliot as “he”. Although I was a voracious reader of everything including the classics, I had not yet learned that this author went by a pen name. My friends said nothing, but their looks were enough; I guessed the worst and confirmed it when I got home.

    • TMUpchurch says:

      I wouldn’t have known that at 13 either — although I studied her work later. She purposefully picked a male-sounding pen name because she wanted to be ‘taken seriously’ (as a man), so your assumption was in accordance with the author’s wishes.
      We studied Silas Marner for English Lit O’level (oh, how that dates me!) and I remember being very surprised that people could just pick any old name and write with it. Later, I remember speculation that JK Rowling had used initials to remove gender bias and be ‘taken seriously’. It’s a horrific idea that this is still going on; as if females can’t write a serious novel? Looking at the generation of new writers coming through now, reckon that concept is on its way out.

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