Today is April Fools Day, and no one, apparently, knows why. Personally, I’m of the opinion that the holiday was simply invented from whole cloth one day by a disgruntled ancient, as a light-hearted cover from which to unleash the repressed anger we all sometimes feel toward loved ones, co-workers, or just society in general. But maybe I’m projecting.
Whatever the origins of this prankiest of holidays, it does provide an excuse to stop and consider some of the great literary charlatans that history has to offer.
Along those lines, The Huffington Post goes to 11 with the 11 most incredible literary hoaxes, omitting, in a rare absence of hyperbole, the words “of all time.” If that whets your appetite for literary cons, you may want to check out the Guardian’s earlier list here, with an update here. Wikipedia collects more tales of bunk here. Obligatory mention of James Frey is here.
Though it doesn’t deal with a case of forgery or plagiarism, Allison Hoover Bartlett’s The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, detailing rare-book thief John Gilkey’s bibliophilia gone mad, is a riveting look at true crime of the nerd variety, and Melissa Katsoulis’ Telling Tales: A History of Literary Hoaxes covers the subject in all its mendacious glory (review).
Elsewhere, The New Yorker‘s Judith Thurman has the story of freelance Italian journalist Tommaso Debenedetti, who seems to have fabricated interviews with a slew of famous literary figures, from Gore Vidal to Toni Morrison.
And finally, the Los Angeles Times, by way of atrocious pun, relates the deeply edifying tale of self-obsessed French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, who unknowingly referenced fictional philosopher Jean-Baptiste Botul (he of the school of Botulism) in an essay published earlier this year. Check those sources, kids.