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

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  390 Ratings  ·  74 Reviews
The saga of John Kennedy Toole is one of the greatest stories of American literary history. After writing A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole corresponded with Robert Gottlieb of Simon & Schuster for two years. Exhausted from Gottlieb's suggested revisions, Toole declared the publication of the manuscript hopeless and stored it in a box. Years later he suffered a mental bre ...more
Hardcover, 335 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Da Capo Press (first published January 1st 2012)
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Nov 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jul 08, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Heather Terrell
Aug 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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 02, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
MacLuachlin takes a balanced and well researched view of Toole's life and the life of his great work, A Confederacy of Dunces.

At times the year by year, chapter by chapter approach reminds me of that "David Copperfield crap" of Ignatius literary cousin, Holden Coudfield ranted about. However, it was necessary to set the record straight as claims that the editor who initially rejected Toole or Toole's repressed homosexuality drove Toole's suicide are unfounded. MacLuachlin makes that very clear.
Thomas Bell
Jun 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Hunter Murphy
Dec 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
My Review on Library Journal [Xpress Reviews, August 3, 2012]:

MacLauchlin (English, Germanna Community Coll.) dedicated five years to learning and writing about the life story of John Kennedy Toole, who killed himself at age 31 in 1969, his novel, A Confederacy of Dunces, still unpublished. The hard work certainly shows in the resulting biography. The reader experiences the life and death of Toole, as well as the amazing journey that the manuscript of A Co
Momo García
Oct 09, 2015 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
Feb 01, 2016 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.
Paul Secor
Jun 10, 2015 rated it liked it
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 25, 2012 marked it as to-read
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 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
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.
Jan 18, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, expository
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 26, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Como bien concluye Cory MacLauchlin, a pesar de tratarse de una biografía que nos permite conocer más a Toole y ahuyentar las leyendas que se formaron alrededor de su figura cuando se publicó por primera vez La Conjura de los necios, todavía deja preguntas abiertas más bien por culpa de la falta de documentación y de aquella famosa nota de suicidio que Thelma, su madre, destruyó, y presiento que no era del todo sincera cuando hablaba de la relación con su hijo. Me dejó con la sensación de que co ...more
Jon B.
Jul 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
I was finally able to find a copy of this (thank you ILL) and I must say that it made for a really good biography of an un-biographical-able (or so I had thought) author. The story of the publication of"Confederacy of Dunces" is known to most, maybe more so than the picaresque story of the novel itself, but I've always been interested in knowing more about John Kennedy Toole. This book is quite helpful in filling in a lot of the gaps concerning Toole's life, and does an admirable job in not find ...more
Sep 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biographies
In-depth and readable. I wanted to start back at the beginning as soon as I finished. Great bio of a brilliant artist and a tragic life.
Jhonny Quintero
Jul 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Si "La conjura de los necios" y su autor dejaron una marca en uno, este libro resulta más que revelador. Es maravilloso y su investigación es rigurosa.
Max Nemtsov
Mar 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-books
Не то чтоб мы не знали «основных дат жизни и творчества» ДКТ и не то чтоб он прожил «долгую и счастливую жизнь», но биография эта была крайне полезна. Во-первых — из-за мелких фактоидов: например, что ДКТ в юности хлестался, будто агент Юла Бриннера после «Флибустьера» пытался нанять его гувернером к «детям» Юла (числом одно дитя, как мы знаем). Во-вторых, потому что это про Новый Орлеан. Но главное — у Кори Маклафлина получился очень бережный нарратив: с одной стороны без агиографии и придыхани ...more
Sam Sattler
Jan 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 02, 2017 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. It’s fairly workmanlike literary bio on the author of one of my Desert Island books. It spends a bit too many pages on "all that David Copperfield kind of crap," but is quite revealing and useful. I’d always pictured JKT as this tortured Outsider. When in fact he seems to be quite the opposite, until the end when he twisted off.

I'd always supposed (erroneously it seems after reading the bio) that Ignatius was a hyperbolic JKT, just as people often mistake Humbert Humbert for Dr Nabok
John Frazier
Jul 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Dec 24, 2015 rated it liked it
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
Bailey Simone
May 14, 2018 rated it liked it
pretty interesting. good basic outline of toole’s life with some insight into friendships / family relationships / etc. get to know his mother pretty well.

for me, a lot of this falls into the thing where author biographies just chronicle the subject author’s college experience / studies in a way that almost just feels like a list, or something i could read on wikipedia. the book offers a few really funny / interesting stories from his life, though, which make it mostly worth it.

author seems ne
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
Scarlett Sims
Jun 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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