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Butterfly in the Typewriter: The Tragic Life of John Kennedy Toole and the Remarkable Story of A Confederacy of Dunces Hardcover – March 27, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


PW’s Best Summer Reads 2012, 6/8/12

Kirkus Reviews, 3/15/12
“[MacLauchlin] cleanly lays out the brief life of his subject and his work’s unlikely afterlife…A valuable biography”

BookPage, April Issue
“[A] highly readable biography…It does an impressive job filling in the gaps and helping readers better understand this complex writer.”
Yahoo! Shine, 3/18/12
“Author Cory MacLauchlin provides a well-documented, highly objective, step-by-step track of Toole's too-short life.”
San Diego Union Tribune, 3/30/12
“A complete telling of the sad but triumphant story…The life that unfolds here is full of contrasts: laughter and pain, popularity and isolation, failure and success.”, 4/11
“In addition to being the most comprehensive and accurate biography about the man so far, it's also a gripping read”
Blurt-Online, 4/19/12
“An impressive new biography…MacLauchlin makes Toole come alive by providing illuminating glimpses into his life and clearing up much of the fog surrounding his death.”
Publishers Weekly, 4/23/12
“[A] thoughtful and thorough biography…MacLauchlin does an admirable job distinguishing facts from speculation.”
New City, 5/1/12
Butterfly in the Typewriter is as close to unraveling the enigma of the often-mysterious John Kennedy Toole as we are ever likely to read, and his story makes for an engrossing read.”
Shepherd Express, 5/2/12
A fascinating account of Toole's short, intense life…For anyone carrying more than a passing interest in A Confederacy of Dunces, this bio is, of course, a must-read.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer, 5/11/12
“For anybody who has faced rejection (and who hasn’t?), this book contains a lifetime worth of wisdom.”
Buffalo News, 5/6/12
“This is a sad story well-told”
Deep South Magazine,6/1/12
“MacLauchlin has created a book that is literary, erudite and accessible all at the same time. He has married scholarship with storytelling, which is not an easy feat.”
Atlanta Journal Constitution, 5/29/12
“Cory MacLauchlin’s fair-minded biography unpacks one myth at a time…Along with its portrait of a complicated, conflicted and flawed young writer, Butterfly in the Typewriter provides a comprehensive look at Toole’s childhood, college years, his army posting in Puerto Rico and his lifelong love affair with New Orleans.”
Winnipeg Free Press, 5/27/12
“A balanced and sensitive biography of Toole, is very much the stuff of movies”

Washington Times, 6/8/12
“[An] exhaustive biography…Required reading for anyone interested in this enigmatic literary figure; indeed, in Southern literature in general.”, 7/25/12
“It’s an exhaustively researched chronicle of the remarkable life of John Kennedy O’Toole…MacLauchlin’s story…is heartbreaking…I implore you to read the novel and A Butterfly in the Typewriter now, to meet the man and Ignatius yourself before it’s too late.”

Library Journal, 8/03/12
“The reader experiences the life and death of Toole, as well as the amazing journey that the manuscript of A Confederacy of Dunces took long after its author was gone….[MacLauchlin] shows a connection to and understanding of Toole that translates to readers, making them feel as if they, too, have entered Toole’s mind and are with him through his ups and downs…MacLauchlin has a deep understanding of Toole without making any unfounded assumptions…Recommended to all literary biography collections and necessary for all those studying the prominent cultural figures of New Orleans.”

The Advocate
, 8/14/12
“MacLauchlin does this tragic story justice, producing a gripping biography worth reading.", 7/25/12
“It’s an exhaustively researched chronicle of the remarkable life of John Kennedy O’Toole…MacLauchlin’s story…is heartbreaking…I implore you to read the novel and A Butterfly in the Typewriter now, to meet the man and Ignatius yourself before it’s too late.”

About the Author

Cory MacLauchlin is a producer, biographer, and member of the English Faculty at Germanna Community College. He lives in northern Virginia with his wife and son.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press; First Edition edition (March 27, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0306820404
  • ISBN-13: 978-0306820403
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (41 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,053 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Cory MacLauchlin was born and raised in Newport News, Virginia. He earned his Master of Arts in English from University of Virginia.

He has traveled all over the world, but New Orleans remains his favorite place on earth. After witnessing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina he dedicated himself to uplifting the importance of one of the most culturally significant cities in the U.S. He developed a course on New Orleans history and culture at Christopher Newport University and he has led several student groups to help rebuilding efforts in the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

Currently a member of the English Faculty at Germanna Community College, he teaches courses on American Literature, Southern Literature and Writing and Research. With a belief in the ability of writing to rehabilitate lives, he offers writing and literature courses at a nearby state prison. Currently, he teaches a course on the literature of confinement there.

MacLauchlin has published on topics in American and British literature, ranging from Mark Twain to the intricate history of The Hummums, a centuries old literary institution of London. As producer and biographer, he is featured in the documentary film John Kennedy Toole: The Omega Point.

He lives in Virginia with his wife and sons.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

58 of 60 people found the following review helpful By Herbert V. Leighton on April 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is the definitive biography of Ken Toole. On what basis do I make this claim? I have studied John Kennedy Toole and his novel A Confederacy of Dunces for five years, and I have published two peer-review journal articles on his work. I have studied his papers thoroughly and have read all previously published biographies and memoirs about him. Therefore, I am confident in this statement. I have learned a great deal from this book, my previous efforts notwithstanding. MacLauchlin has laboriously tracked down those who knew Ken Toole and has given them a voice. And I have asked around: he did not misuse his sources as Nevils and Hardy apparently did in their eariler biography.

If I had to complain, I would point out that the first couple of chapters have too much purple prose. But then, Confederacy itself doesn't win you over immediately, either. Once he gets going, MacLauchlin's style makes for a pleasant and informative read.

To review the contents:

It begins with Toole's boyhood. MacLauchlin found a boyhood friend of Toole's to describe some of his experiences and his personality at that time. There is a little of the unfortunate "He must have ... " that plagues biographies, but not too much. The Toole family had to move from more prestigious neighborhoods to less prestigious ones as their fortunes declined. Ken Toole's father was eccentric even in Ken's boyhood.

Ken's teen and college years: There is a bibliography that was produced after Toole's death of the books in his library, and MacLauchlin read through all of those books. He also interviewed professors and fellow students from Tulane and Columbia about the courses that Toole took and his experience with them. MacLauchlin clearly did his homework.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Ben Anderson on April 5, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Having just read Butterfly cover-to-cover, I can attest to its greatness. MacLauchlin carefully dissects each aspect of the sensationalism that has largely defined our understanding of Toole, resulting in both a thoroughly researched and more humanistic portrait. At the same time, MacLauchlin anchors much of the narrative with Confederacy providing a much-needed and appropriate central theme for a biography of a man ever-inspired by the wealth of characters around him. MacLauchlin's passion for writing, Toole, and New Orleans come together beautifully here to create a biography that reads more like a novel - Toole newcomers and scholars alike will likely re-discover Toole through Butterfly and find it hard to put down!
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By J. T. Cox on July 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Cory MacLauchlin has helped expand our knowledge of John Kennedy Toole with "Butterfly in the Typewriter." The book is well-researched, grounded in primary source material (Toole's papers) together with extensive interviews of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances of Toole's, as well as previously published books and articles. Utilizing these materials, he has put together the most detailed portrait to date of the enigmatic New Orleans writer. MacLauchlin's handling of the Gottlieb affair and Toole's descent into mental illness and suicide makes for especially compelling reading, and he does an excellent job pointing to those people and experiences in Toole's background that lead inexorably to the characters and themes in "Confederacy of Dunces."

"Butterfly in the Typewriter," however, has one wart on its nose that I found bothersome as a reader: the author's close emotional proximity to the subject. The book reads much more like hagiography than biography. From it's introduction through its concluding remarks, MacLauchlin idolizes Toole on the page, perpetually extolling him as well as championing him against what he sees as the more unsavory assertions in circulation about aspects of Toole's personal life (God forbid Toole may have been gay or bi-sexual, but don't worry; MacLauchlin mounts a spirited defense). Everything Toole does through the MacLauchlin prism, he does with "precision," "scholarship," "erudition," and, of course, "humor.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 20, 2012
Format: Hardcover
As an admirer of "Confederacy" when it appeared (in mass-market Grove paperback for me), the little I found that was marketed back then about John Kennedy Toole tended towards the tortured artist. Walker Percy's promotion of his fellow Southern Catholic (if, being obviously of Irish descent, cradle and not convert) helped launch Toole's novel as if he was a creation as odd as Ignatius Reilly, his memorably offensive and irascibly brilliant protagonist. Toole's suicide in 1969 at 31, and the long delay before the novel was championed and won the Pulitzer in 1981, became associated with Toole's failure to get his novel published.

Cory MacLauchlin corrects this misattribution. He separates the novel's fate in publishing from that of its author three years later. He handles the coverage of Toole in the "popular media" and places it against the legacy that his mother took on of protecting her son's reputation. He notes the sympathy of the critics who found in Toole's tragedy a ready myth. He removes blame from Simon and Schuster editor Robert Gottlieb; he does not speculate as many have about Toole's alleged homosexuality. Necessarily, he patiently delves into the mental illness which perhaps, left undiagnosed, hastened Toole's inability to cope. Faced with his demanding mother Thelma and his namesake father's own decline, Toole could not endure the future. He came back from Puerto Rico where he had taught Army draftees. The freedom he had in New York City during grad school, in traveling, in teaching, was contrasted with his family and his responsibility. He looked at his parents; he left after his Christmas break from teaching. The road trip through the South appears mysterious.
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