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The Literary Figures With the Weirdest Obsessions

This week saw the release of Brian Kimberling’s excellent debut novel, Snapper, a delightful, wry story of a young ornithologist romping around the Indiana backcountry in a glitter-encrusted truck called the Gypsy Moth. There’s no doubting Kimberling’s own expertise in (or obsession with) birding after reading either the book or his recent column in the Times, in which he describes die-hard birders as an “army of primitive hunter-mystics decked out in sturdy hiking boots and nylon rain gear.” But Kimberling is only the latest in a long history of authors with burning, decidedly offbeat obsessions. After the jump, the author schools us on some of his favorites. Click through to learn some things about D.H. Lawrence’s proclivities you weren’t sure you wanted to know, and if you’re so inspired, swing by WORD next week to see your trusty literary editor chat with Kimberling in the flesh.

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Anton Chekhov

Chasing butterflies like Nabokov, raising peacocks like Flannery O’Connor, keeping bees like Ted Hughes – well, whatever. A real Bohemian needs a mongoose. Chekhov called his Svoloch and described it in a letter as “a mixture of rat and crocodile, tiger and monkey.” A snake showing up at a picnic was a special event. He kept it for about a year and a half, but, citing a need to travel, he then donated it to the Moscow zoo, which he had fiercely criticized as an “animals’ graveyard.” The mongoose lived in captivity for two more years. The average lifespan of a captive mongoose today is about 20 years.

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