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Ouch: the riposte of the week

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 5, 2010 01:11 PM

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It's safe to say that the biographer Jeffrey Meyers did not like Andrew O'Hagan's review of his book about Samuel Johnson, which ran in the New York Review of Books a few months ago. (O'Hagan reviewed Meyers' book along with two other biographies of Johnson.) In a letter in the current NYRB, Meyers charges that O'Hagan "reduces my serious work to one ludicrous phrase: 'a litany of unjolly spankings.'" Meyers goes on to say that only six of 528 pages had to do with Johnson's sexual peccadillos; that, in any case, they were whippings not spankings; and that this was no way to treat a book that was runner up for the PEN award for the best biography published in 2008.

Retorts O'Hagan:

It would probably never occur to the prize-winning Mr. Meyers that the shortness of my review of his book was short out of kindness. Had I dwelled with him longer, it would doubtless have been to the detriment of his latest biography, which is no less sensationalist and no less bitter than a great many of his forty-seven books. I'm sorry I said spankings instead of whippings, though not very sorry: it led to my being spanked by Jeffrey Meyers, an outcome that puts me in the company of some very august writers indeed.


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