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Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of a Confederacy of Dunces
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Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of a Confederacy of Dunces

3.68 of 5 stars 3.68  ·  rating details  ·  222 ratings  ·  58 reviews
The long-awaited biography of John Kennedy Toole, whose fascinating life and tragic death is one of the most amazing publishing stories in American literature
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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If you haven't read Ignatius Rising: The Life of John Kennedy Toole, read this instead. If you have read it, read this one anyway. This is much more measured, balanced and insightful, and certainly less speculative and not sensationalistic, as is the former. (If you haven't read A Confederacy of Dunces, well, certainly read that first of all -- and what are you waiting for!)

While some may question the efficacy of a biography about someone on whom not a lot can be known (and almost nothing on how...more
This book was mind blowing for me because somehow I had the idea in my head that Ignatius J Reilly was basically a mirror of John Kennedy Toole and this was truly not the case. Ken Toole was smart, charismatic, fairly grounded and short he was nothing like Ignatius! This book gave a lot of background and explained the inspiration for the book and the many unforgettable characters. If anyone is not familiar with Toole, the abridged version goes like this: wrote novel, rejected, d...more
BUTTERFLY IN THE TYPEWRITER: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of “A Confederacy of Dunces.” (2012). Cory MacLauchlin. ****.
This is an excellent biography of the writer, Toole, and how he ultimately came to write his only great work, “The Confederacy of Dunces.” If there are some of you out there who haven’t read this novel, you are in store for a real treat. Toole was born and raised in New Orleans. He was the apple of his mother’s eye, and she lavished all of the...more
M. Sarki
I read this biography as a primer before diving into the real deal which my adult children love very much. On first look I was not too interested in the Confederacy but based on glowing reviews by my goodreads pals here I will attempt to read the novel sometime soon. I have the hardcover book on order. My reading queue is unbelievably long these days but I guess that is a good thing considering the alternative. This book was basic reportage which I for the most part despise unless I am looking f...more
Heather Terrell
There were some problems with the proofreading (mainly with word choice; e.g. assent was used when the author meant ascent), but those are the concerns of a grammar geek and word nerd. I was still engrossed with this book. It is carefully researched and responsibly reported. The author stated it when he was forced to speculate on what might have happened, rather than asserting those possibilities as truths, which is a mistake most of Toole's biographers have done in the past. It's understandable...more
Thomas Bell
A very thorough, micro-scopically focused story of the life of John Kennedy Toole as well as the life of his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces. Overall a very good read; well-researched, excellent writing skills, and the pull of a narrative thread throughout. The problem with using a microscope, of course is that it magnifies everything, rendering some nuances as cartoonishly exagerrated and out-of context. The minor drawbacks for me included the dwelling on Toole's childhood and the hearsay recoun...more
Teena Myers
A sad story of a brilliant mind silenced by mental instability and adversity. There is much that will never be known about John Kennedy Toole, due to a protective mother unwilling to let dirty laundry flap in the wind for all to see. Since she destroyed the suicide note, the reason her son killed himself died with her. Much of the book is the authors speculation but an interesting story of a mothers perseverance to obtain the recognition her son craved.
Just read an interesting review re this bio in The Roanoke Times.
It's been nearly 25 years since I read "Dunces," and I'm curious to see how it holds up on a second read. One of few books that has made me laugh out loud.
There are so few concrete details of Toole's life that I didn't expect this biography to be as compelling as it was. Although I was hoping to learn more about how he came to take his own life, the fact of life is sometimes we just never know these things.
One of the best biographies I've ever read. MacLauchlin makes connections, but in a way that isn't too heavy-handed, and does it in an engaging manner. Very thorough and fairly presented.
John Frazier
As well researched as this book seemed, it still left a number of questions regarding the suicide of John Kennedy Toole, an author whose posthumous success and reputation have far exceeded those attained during his brief life. I first read "Confederacy" about 25 years ago, and enjoyed it considerably. I had visited New Orleans prior to that and could appreciate some of the surroundings and context in which the story of Ignatius Reilly unfolds. After that I even read "The Neon Bible," Toole's fir...more
Scarlett Sims
I ordered this book pretty much as soon as I heard it existed. I'm a huge fan of Confederacy of Dunces, but I knew very little about Toole's life. This book changed that quite a bit.

I wouldn't recommend reading it if you haven't already read Confederacy. I know some people just like biographies, but MacLauchlin makes a lot of references to things that happen in Toole's book, and anyway if you haven't read Confederacy you really really should. I also feel like, having lived in New Orleans, I had...more
Sam Sattler
I had never heard of John Kennedy Toole the day that the cover of A Confederacy of Dunces caught my eye on the Harvard Book Store bargain table. That cover was so different from everything else there that it was the first thing I picked up, and I had the feeling the book was going to be special. And, it turns out that I was correct. A Confederacy of Dunces is a brilliant novel, and it started my thirty-year fascination with its author, a man who committed suicide at age 31 in 1969, eleven years...more
Excellent, excellent biography of the author of ne of my favorite books and a man about whom little is known. A lot of research went into this, that much is clear and it must have been especially difficult when Toole's mother destroyed any records that were contrary to her narrative of his life. Other of Toole's confidants kept their confidences all the way to the grave which, while admirable, makes it difficult for a biographer.

Still, MacLauchlin does a terrific job in every aspect of the book...more
John Kennedy Toole was born in New Orleans in 1937, the only son of a “pure” New Orleanian Creole mother and an Irish immigrant father. This comprehensive biography doesn’t pretend to answer the many questions left by Toole’s sudden suicide at age 31, but it does trace, in great detail, the events that are known about the Confederacy of Dunces author’s life, starting from his days as a precocious student through the difficult days of his late twenties and early thirties.

After a promising underg...more
Very interesting details about John Kennedy Toole's life and the tortured route his book took on the way to publication. Speaking of which, I'm amazed after all these years to see how close I was to all of the activity of Confederacy's publication, and I didn't have a clue. I don't even remember Walker Percy teaching at Loyola the semester Mrs. Toole approached him about publishing the book, and we had a relatively small English Department! Callow youth, indeed!
The book is well researched. I give him that. But the book is not well written-- the verbosity reminds of Ignatius without the humor-- and, despite the research, it is not very informative. If you're interested in the development of the book, you should skip the first eight chapters. And if you're interested in Toole's demise, you should just skip the whole thing.
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces won the Pulitzer Prize in 1981, but Toole never even knew it had been published. His work was rejected, stored in a box, and discovered by his mother only after he had forgone his passion and his life. Cory MacLauchlin revisits this tragedy with honor and aplomb.
Very interesting. Well researched, but also points out that JKT's mother influenced to a huge degree what is known about him, through the writings and keepsakes she kept, and the stories she told. She threw away the suicide note and some other writings in his car at the time of his suicide. Also, JKT had a few close confidants who refuse to talk about him, out of respect. But this biography seems to dispel the speculation that JKT was gay, and that his sexuality had anything to do with his suici...more
David Gallin-Parisi
Short biography about Toole. Questions previous biographers' biases and carefully explains all the impossible to know aspects about Toole's life. Tragic financial issues, a strained relationship with his parents, yet also a laughingly connected life of love, exploration, and making fun of everything. People that make fun of everything, themselves included, are always the most fun to hang out with. Toole's remarkable wit and observations are humorous and heartbreaking at the same time. I found my...more
Jim Hale
JKT is a fascinating subject, and MacLauchlin does him justice in every way. And importantly, he also gives a sympathetic slant to his oft-criticized and sometimes vilified editor Robert Gottlieb, who refused to publish Confederacy of Dunces. MacLauchlin makes clear that there were legitimate concerns about the manuscript, and after reading through COD immediately following the biography, I completely agree. COD was in many ways a work of genius, but it was also gigantic mess. I hope this book...more
MacLauchlin's biography of John Kennedy Toole is a must-read if you love A Confederacy of Dunces. Beautifully written and also very sad, it recounts not only Toole's short life, but also the story of the novel's conception and eventual publication ten years after the author's death. Unlike many biographies, Butterfly in the Typewriter does not romanticise its subject matter or shy away from honestly conveying Toole's complex personality with all its shortcomings. However, there is genuine fondne...more
I'm not in the habit of reading biographies but was I have always been intrigued with the little I knew of John Kennedy Toole. Walker Percy Evans introduction to A Confederacy of Dunces left me wanting much more! I thought this biography was extremely well researched and Cory MacLauchlin did a good job of giving historical perspective on Toole's life. Some readers may be expecting a salacious and scandal filled life in order to explain Toole's suicide but this book is much more of a straight for...more
This book was fairly interesting, but the author seemed far too eager to make assumptions and leaps of logic. He writes about events and lectures that may or may not have affected Toole's life, as there's no evidence he attended.

He also seems very willing to forgive bad behavior on Toole's account, explaining away mean or racist remarks rather than actually analyzing them.

Ultimately, any book on Toole is going to come up feeling incomplete, since his mother so heavily curated his papers and let...more
Shane Finkelstein
This book was interesting at times, boring at others. I learned some facts about John Kennedy Toole that made it worth reading, but maybe the allure of his saga is that no one really knows anything about the author, who committed suicide ten years before his masterpiece was published. If you are a hardcore fan of Conferacy of Dunces or if you are a struggling author trying to wade through the business of publishing, you will find this book compelling, but otherwise, it probably isn’t worth the t...more
Sam Torode
"A Confederacy of Dunces" has become my favorite novel. Aside from the brilliant hilarity of the book, I can also empathize with Toole's experience of rejection from the NY publishing establishment, which made me curious about his life and untimely death.

So I greatly appreciated "Butterfly in the Typewriter," which seems very balanced and thorough, offering valuable insights Toole's personality and academic career, his friends and family life, the inspirations behind "Confederacy," and all the...more
Lisa Andrews
Five stars for the fascinating content, one star for the atrocious editing. I loved reading about the life of John Kennedy Toole, the writer of my favorite novel. Such an inspiring yet heartbreaking story. I look forward to someday reading a well-written biography about him. I did appreciate the unbiased, evidence based approach to this book, however poorly written and edited. Most accounts of Toole's life are full of conjecture and rumors about his lifestyle and the reasons behind his suicide,...more
Charles Stephen
Read the author's biography in tandem with his Pulitzer-winning novel. The author committed suicide about ten years before the novel was published; thus I found the biography more compelling than the novel. Toole was a native or New Orleans, and his "comic" novel was set there. His protagonist, Ignatius Reilly, was a misanthrope, a character so unlikeable that I abandoned him about halfway through the novel. I Finished the biography of Toole, though, and feel enriched from knowing more about his...more
Leslie Zunker
Ended up being a little difficult to get through. Not sure if it resolved some of the questions I had about John Kennedy Toole but maybe that wasn't the purpose. Of course, it didn't help that the ultimate stage mother threw out so many of her son's letters and his suicide note. Wow. She was quite a piece of work! Unfortunately she has skewed the perception of and the truth about Toole forever. He was a flawed human being with lots of demons. What's wrong with being like the rest of us?
Brooke Adams
A little wordy, but interesting story of his life
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