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Nom de Plume (book review)

Have you ever wondered why an author chose a pen name, also known as a pseudonym or nom de plume? Carmela Ciuraru explores the lives and motivations of eighteen notable authors in Nom de Plume. As a recipient of the 2011 New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship in nonfiction, Ciuraru seems well qualified to embark on this journey into other authors’ lives.

The author doesn’t let me down either. She’s adept at finding facts and translating historical information about the secretive lives of the authors, without excessive melodrama. Ciuraru’s thorough research and ability to uncover unusual facts adds to the humanity and authenticity of the profiles. As literary history goes, this book isn’t pedantic or mired in unnecessary statistics, which make it an interesting and readable book that reveals the human stories.

I’m no history buff, which may account for my lack of information. However, I’m sure I’m not the only person who has forgotten that a number of famous authors used pen names. In fact, I’m sure I never knew in some cases. While it was quite common for women to write under male names back when women weren’t considered capable of thinking of complicated stories, I’d never really considered that the opposite might also be true. A man who wrote a romance, for example, faced equally harsh treatment. In other cases, authors’ dealt with tragic personal lives, secretive existences, illnesses, and addictions.

The authors’ secrets range from cross-dressing, to murder-suicide, to mental illness, and more. Whatever type of stories you enjoy, from romance to mystery, there’s a true story here of an author who lived a secret life. From Charlotte Bronte’s elaborate efforts to conceal her identity, to Aurore Dupin’s cross-dressing and cigar smoking, to Marian Evans, the woman who wrote as a man and was described as having a big nose and the face of a withered cabbage, to Charles Dodgson, who was obsessive compulsive and collected books about fairies, or any of the fourteen more authors profiled, you won’t be bored.

Then, to add to your enjoyment, there are three additions to this book. They are About the author, which includes a bio and an interview, Read on, which provides a recommended reading list, and About the book, with an additional article about pseudonyms, as well as questions for discussion in reading groups and classrooms. These sections are also enlightening and interesting to the casual reader, and finally, there is a Time Line, along with the bibliography, for readers who enjoy more historical depth and may wish to read the source materials. Nom de Plume is a book well worth keeping on my bookshelf to revisit and a great resource book for teachers.


About the Author:

Carmela Ciuraru is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and PEN American Center. She is also a writer and editor, as well as a graduate of Columbia University’s Journalism School, and lives in Brooklyn.



Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms (P.S.)

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (May 29, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061735272
  • ISBN-13: 978-00617352

This book submitted to Penny J. Leisch for review by the author, publisher, or publicist.

Permanent link to this article: http://apennyandchange.pennyleisch.com/2012/06/15/nom-de-plume/