Nom de Plume by Carmela Ciuraru – Book Review

Nom de plume : a (secret) history of pseudonymsNom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms by Carmela Ciuraru
Age: Adult
Genre: Non-fiction / Mini-Biographies
Source: Publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2012
ISBN: 9780061735271 /331 pages
Find this book at your local library

In Nom De Plume, Carmela Ciuraru provides snapshot biographies of sixteen of the world’s most famous authors who have written under a pseudonym. Each chapter is devoted to an individual author, discussing his/her childhood, writing career, and death. The author does a fantastic job of focusing on why and how the writer chose their pseudonym. Whether it was for a fresh start, to avoid sexist publishers, or to find a different muse for each new work.

I want to be a biographer reader, I really do. I just don’t have the attention span for most biographies, as they focus on a ridiculous amount of energy on the trivial and mundane aspects of the subject. What I like about Ciuraru’s book is that she provides biographies on some of my favorite authors, but summarizes the details in a way that leaves me feeling sated. I don’t want or need to know more, and it’s certainly not less than what I need to understand the author at hand.

Ciuraru’s writing style is very easy-going and chatty. I liked how she approached each subject and didn’t hold back on their accomplishments and disappointments. By the end of the book, I probably added 10 titles to my “to be read” list from the new authors she introduced me to. The biggest chunks of each chapter are devoted to the author’s choice of pseudonym, and public reaction to the author’s works. I found out a lot of details about the lives and personalities of Mark Twain, the Bronte sisters and Lewis Carroll that were completely new to me.

I’d split my knowledge of the selected authors into three categories:

  1. Know the name and read at least one of their books
  2. Know the name, have not read their books
  3. Don’t know the name, hence never read their books.

I found a large portion of the authors discussed to be French or from France, or French influenced in one way or another. I’m not complaining about that aspect, it fits my reading taste just fine. I just found it odd that there wasn’t more variety of authors from different regions. In its  entirety, the authors were all European or American.

One complaint I have, and this is more editorial than content, is that there was no consistency in the 2 font styles used for the chapter headings. The two fonts represent the author’s real name and their pseudonym. There was no consistency with which font stood for which name. It wasn’t confusing, just annoying. It’s such a small detail to overlook in the final editing process of the book.

I think this book is great for English majors in college. Ciuraru provides interesting insight not only into the author’s lives but also their works and the contextual relevance, shock-factor and social issues that accompanied the author in their heyday.

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