Debut Author Snapshot: Mallory Ortberg

Posted by Goodreads on November 5, 2014

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In Texts from Jane Eyre: And Other Conversations with Your Favorite Literary Characters, debut author Mallory Ortberg climbs into the minds of her favorite literary characters and puts them under the glare of a 21st-century spotlight. The result is a hilarious collection of imagined text conversations. It's all too easy to picture Scarlett O'Hara pinging "r u"-strewn messages to Ashley or Pride and Prejudice's Mrs. Bennett tapping out passive-aggressive texts to her daughters. Few will be surprised to learn that Edward Rochester messages Jane Eyre entirely in UPPER CASE or that Daisy Buchanan texts while driving. Ortberg's witty projections, which began as a popular web feature, encompass the modern (Harry Potter and The Hunger Games), the ancient (Circe and Odysseus's hysterical text fight over sorcery), and a whole host of fictional favorites in between.

Ortberg, cocreator of the women-geared general-interest website The Toast, explains how the idea for the book first came about and why her subjects are always the "chronic assholes" of literature.

Artie the dog loves to chew on literature!
Goodreads: How did you conceive of the "Texts From" idea? What was the first fictional text exchange you wrote?

Mallory Ortberg: The "Texts From" idea came from a specific comment on the Gone with the Wind entry in Nicole Cliffe's old Awl Series, Classic Trash. (I owe a thank-you note to @KeithEdwards.) Scarlett was the first entry, back on The Hairpin, and I think that was followed pretty quickly by Jane Eyre and Little Women.

GR: The bookish humor audience is large but perhaps previously untapped! How do you pick books/authors to parody, and do you have any pieces that are your personal favorites? [I can't get enough of whiny Hamlet!] Are there characters you've tried and abandoned?

MO: I hope it's large! Before we found a publisher for the book, my agent and I heard a lot of feedback like, "We love this idea, but we don't think enough people have read all these books" or "We don't think people understand both classic literature and text messaging," and I'm very hopeful that they're wrong.

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Because the point of this book is less "hurr de hurr, what if people had phones, but in, like, THE PAST" and more a delighted exploration of what chronic assholes most of my favorite literary characters are. I wrote about the people who felt the most real to me in literary history. Honestly, there are so many of them, it wasn't difficult to fill a book. Lord Byron was definitely a lot of fun, as was William Blake. Hamlet is such a dirtbag. He is a dirtbag from his toes to his brainpan, and it was such a joy to write him as such.

GR: Who are your comedy writer heroes?

MO: Oh, man. P.G. Wodehouse (like everyone), Nancy Mitford, Jessica R. Williams, Stella Gibbons, Jerome K. Jerome, Baratunde Thurston, Julieanne Smolinski, Patricia Lockwood. Jon Stewart's Naked Pictures of Famous People.

GR: Can you tell us about the origin of The Toast? Why a site aimed at women?

MO: The Toast is a general-interest site that is nominally geared towards women and covers literature, pop culture, archaeology, science, and whatever either of its editors feel like talking about on a given day (often, for me, that is "caves.") I just think women are interesting: to write about, to interview, to pay to write for us, to spend time with in the comments. Men are fine, if they happen to join in, but I'd rather not go out of my way to cultivate their attention.

Freaking out about a tiny horse!
The Toast came about when I finally talked Nicole Cliffe into starting a website with me after she left her job at The Hairpin. Honestly, I just wanted an excuse to talk to her every day, and now I have it.

GR: Now that The Toast is so established, what are you cooking up next? Will the site's focus continue to evolve?

MO: Well, as you may have heard, Roxane Gay is joining us, and she's going to run her own vertical called the Butter under our aegis. I am SO excited for that to start to exist; it's going to be marvelous and Roxane flavored.

Other than that, more of the same, and plenty of it (this means art history jokes, pretty much).

Comments Showing 1-4 of 4 (4 new)

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message 1: by Bernadette (new)

Bernadette I cannot wait to read this book!

message 2: by Harriett (new)

Harriett Clark What fun! Heaven knows we need it in this world!

message 3: by Kate (new)

Kate A. Just reserved it from my library! I'm excited to see how this plays out.

message 4: by Alseftee (new)

Alseftee Can you tell me can find it

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