Everyone’s self-deprecating once in a while — even literary geniuses. Or perhaps, especially literary geniuses? After all, they know the exact right words to string together to tease themselves, talking down their bodies of work or their personal histories — though usually, let’s be fair, tempering it with a “but” at the end. These people have to sell books, after all. After the jump, a few of our favorite authors make fun of themselves, as gently as the ego demands. Let us know your favorite, or add one we missed in the comments!
Lolita is famous, not I. I am an obscure, doubly obscure, novelist with an unpronounceable name. — Vladimir Nabokov in The Paris Review, 1967
“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” — Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — Ray Bradbury in The Paris Review, 2010
“Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — Kurt Vonnegut in The Paris Review, 1977
“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.” — Stephen King
“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — Jonathan Lethem in The Paris Review, 2003
“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.” — John Grisham
“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — Dorothy Parker in The Paris Review, 1956
And of course, our candidate for the most self-deprecating living writer, 5 minutes of Gary Shteyngart making fun of himself.