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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

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  311 Ratings  ·  67 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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(showing 1-30 of 1,075)
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Nov 14, 2012 Teresa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 08, 2014 Hudson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Heather Terrell
Aug 12, 2012 Heather Terrell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 06, 2012 Tony rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
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
M. Sarki
Feb 05, 2013 M. Sarki rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Hunter Murphy
Dec 31, 2014 Hunter Murphy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've already written a review for this marvelous biography of John Kennedy Toole. (If you're interested, it's here:

I would like to say that MacLauchlin does a fine job of analyzing the myth and legend of the enigmatic and troubled JK Toole. This biography was thorough and at the same time fun to read. Also, as someone who's written a novel, I was fascinated by the way the book A Confederacy of Dunces was discovered.

The irony to me is that John Kennedy
Momo García
Oct 17, 2015 Momo García rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
El problema de mis contemporáneos es su obsesión por la objetividad histórica. Los antiguos me fascinan por la enfermedad contraria: su tendencia a distorsionarla. El autor de esta biografía es demasiado contemporáneo para mi gusto. La vida de John Kennedy Toole que relata es parca, sencilla e, incluso, pedestre. Lo único extravagante en ella son su madre y su ciudad natal -su novela máxima, pues-.

He leído dos veces "La conjura de los necios", y, ahora que leí en voz alta el primer capítulo a m
Thomas Bell
Jun 15, 2012 Thomas Bell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Paul Secor
This probably contains as much information about John Kennedy Toole as I would ever want to read, and I'm grateful for that. Unfortunately, the writing is fairly pedestrian, so it's not a book I'll ever want to reread.
There was another redeeming quality to Butterfly in the Typewriter. Amidst the information about Mr. Toole's life,
Clayelle Dalferes - she of the wondrous voice and diction on WQXR - who was a friend of John Kennedy Toole, makes a couple of short appearances in the book, including o
Mar 17, 2016 Lahierbaroja rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me fascinan las historias de personajes trágicos. Pero si además el protagonista no es un personaje de ficción, sino un autor atormentado por el fracaso y la frustración, no puedo evitar leerlo. John Kennedy Toole se suicidó sin conocer su éxito, sin ver en qué se había convertido su historia: un personaje atemporal y una novela que forma parte de la Historia de la Literatura. Buen homenaje el de conocer su vida para honrarle después de su muerte.
Jul 08, 2015 Cindylou rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
According to a friend of mine who knew Toole, virtually this entire book is pure fiction, and distorted, and in places vicious. The author makes quite an effort to "disprove" the idea that Toole was homosexual. But my friend says that everyone who knew him knew he was gay.It was well know on the Tulane campus. In his effort to suppress the truth, this author slanders through inuendo one of Toole's few friends, Doonie Guibet, who definitely was gay. Note on pages 214-5 where he suggests that Tool ...more
Dec 27, 2015 Ron rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is initially off putting because there is such a dearth of information about the early years of Toole's life, and the writing is drab and perfunctory as it attempts--and largely fails--to offer objectivity and a lack of conclusive judgments. Toole comes across as an arrogant, conservative, repressed--his mimicry merely covers up his own lack of identity--elitist who seems to have been the life of the party, but was simply a cipher (and there is no such thing as a southern 'gentleman' as ...more
Teena Myers
Dec 21, 2012 Teena Myers rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 28, 2016 Rhonda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: expository, biography
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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.
May 30, 2012 Tajma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 23, 2012 Julie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
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
Sam Sattler
Jan 27, 2013 Sam Sattler rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 06, 2012 Mythili rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
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!
Mar 12, 2014 Bonehead rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jul 30, 2012 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jan 17, 2014 Jim Hale rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
Oct 22, 2013 Silvia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Christopher Rowe
Jul 12, 2015 Christopher Rowe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While it seems like there is little enough known about Toole's life to fill out a compelling biography, MacLauchlin does a good job of underscoring the complication of Toole's legacy.
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