8/26/2011

Inventions Waiting to be Invented

Doesn't everyone maintain a mental list of things they'd invent, if only they possessed the necessary time/skills/resources?  The difference is that I've accepted that I'm never going to possess the necessary time/skills/resources to invent any of the things on my list.   So here it is, the things I'd invent if I could, presented in hopes that someone will invent these things for me so that I can then buy them!
  1. Sunglasses with built-in earbuds.  What two things can't fashionable people do without?  Answer: Designer sunglasses and iPods.  (I'm omitting adopted children and little dogs for the moment.)  Can you imagine the convenience of combining the two?  The technology isn't there yet to deliver low cost, high quality wireless sound, but once it is, would love to see someone imbed earbuds in the tips of sunglasses.  Want to listen to your music? Put your sunglasses on.  Want to take them out?  Simply remove your glasses.  How easy - and how suave - would that be?  And imagine the profit to be made ... bet you could charge $100s for the combo, which would probably only cost $10-20 to manufacture.
  2. Sunglass LCD Displays.  Speaking of sunglasses-based utilities, wouldn't it be nice if those wireless phone earbuds (like Bluetooth) could be equipped with a laser projection device capable of projecting info about incoming calls onto the inside lens of your glasses/sunglasses?  That way you could use your Bluetooth without having to sacrifice the ability to screen incoming calls.
  3. Pop-up visual barriers to conceal traffic accidents.  This one would be a great boon for the public good.  You don't have to live in a major metro area for long before realizing the major cause of traffic slowdowns isn't accidents - it's people slowing down to LOOK at the accidents.  We humans are unapologetic voyeurs when it comes to death and mayhem.  So here's a simple fix: why not equip police/fire response units with big screens that can be erected to conceal the accident from passing traffic?  I'm picturing pop-up screen that fold into a small space but automatically "pop open" - a la those screens that people use on their car windsheilds to keep their cars cool - to create a barrier.  Yes, keeping the screen steady in the event of wind poses a technical challenge, but have to believe the company that invents a useable, storable solution would instantly receive contracts from every municipality in the U.S., who would quickly realize how much cheaper the screens are than building new overpasses, lanes, or roads!
  4. Car Cooling Fans.  Speaking of those screens that people use to keep their cars cool while sitting in the sun ... why are we still using screens to try to keep our cars cool while sitting in the sun?  How hard would it be for the car companies to invent some sort of battery-powered fan that could be triggered by an iPhone app & ensure that your car has cooled by the time you step into it?
  5. Mobile offices.  With "working from home" becoming the latest trend in business, folks need to be able to maintain connectivity with their offices without having to remain chained to a computer at home.  Which leads me to the conclusion that the time has come for cars equipped with mobile office packages.  I picture a "mobile office" as including, at a minimum: (1) 2-3 power ports, for charging multiple electronic devices; (2) a retractable desk for in-car computer work; (3) more in-car storage for papers/files.   Of course I'm not talking about actually working on your computer as you're driving.  Even if you could figure out a way to accomplish this without removing your eyes from the road, anything that removes your attention from the road is sheer stupidity.  But a nice mobile office package would definitely allow folks more mobility during the work day.
  6. Online school.  As we draw closer to the day when computers become ubiquitous - as necessary to life as cars and refrigerators - think it's time to give serious consideration to a radical change in the way we deliver mandatory public education.  As a teacher, some of our greatest challenges include: (1) engaging students in learning and (2) differentiating content to accomodate different levels of ability/ cognitive speed/ maturity.  Meanwhile, as a society, some of our greatest challenges include: (1) delivering education to at risk populations; (2) maintaining teacher quality across the spectrum (especially in urban/rural areas); (3) providing an educational experience that equips students to cope with 21st century challenges; and (4) keeping public education affordable.  One potential solution: harness the power of online instruction.  I'm not talking about online teaching/training as it's done now - a combination of virtual lectures + skill drills.  Rather, I'm proposing a revolution in online teaching, combining the very best instruction delivered by the very best instructors (if freed from necessity of hiring teachers based on quantity, school systems could focus on teacher quality), high-quality video (clips from top quality productions: National Geographic, Imax, etc.), high-engagement interactive response (skill drills modelled after video games), interactive instruction (including the "telemarker" technology that sportscasters use to superimpose drawn lines/arrows onto on-screen images), blogs, podcasts, wikis, and virtual classrooms to create lessons that engage on a variety of different levels.  Now, infuse this product with teaching best practices, to include ample use of active learning, differentiated instruction, practice, critical thinking, and reteaching guided by error analysis (software capable of analyzing wrong answers and figuring out WHY they are wrong; then providing targeted remediation).  Then top the whole product with End of Course summative assessments (that's "tests" for you laymen) which students MUST pass in order to get their high school diploma - or, if that isn't enough of a carrot, require a high school diploma before issuing a drivers license, and watch as our public education system shifts from in-school to home-based instruction.  Yes, I realize there are many technical, political and social challenges involved in an online school delivery model.  But I think that evolution in this general direction is inevitable, and there is money to be made by companies willing/able to position themselves to service this niche. 
  7. Better beach chair.  Every summer as I lug the equivalent of a 50lb manpack down to the beach with me just so I can enjoy a few mod cons along with sunshine and the sound of surf, I swear that one day I'm going to invent a "better beach chair" that will incorporate much of what I carry into a single, portable unit.  What I mean, of course, is that I don't understand why someone ELSE hasn't invented the chair I want, so that I can buy one.  In my imagination, a "better beach chair" incorporates the following features:
    1. retractable canopy for instant shade
    2. portable fan - to generate a bit of a breeze in the event of a really hot day
    3. small, retractable table
    4. small cooler capable of holding 3-4 sodas & snacks - preferably under the seat of the chair so that if cool air escapes, it escapes up through the seat
    5. drink holder
    6. book holder
    7. waterproof, sandproof, lockable storage for electronics: cameras, ipod, watch, money
    8. imbedded music speakers
    9. pillow/headrest
    10. portable - ideally carried via backpack-type straps



  

8/11/2011

Don't Blame Teachers! Factors That Influence Student Learning (Hint: Teacher Quality is NOT #1!)

 

You don't have to be a teacher, parent or politician to be cognizant of the latest trend in educational reform: the "accepted wisdom" that if a student isn't learning, there's a teacher somewhere that deserves the blame.  Documentaries appear to prove that anyone can learn if only a certain formula of best practices + high expectation is followed.  Movies turn the idea of "bad teachers" into a comic device.  (I admit, I laughed.)  No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on supposed "research based practices," encodes the idea that there's a magic formula of theory + market-based incentives that can result in 100% student achievement by the year 2012.  (This one makes me laugh too, but for different reasons.)

I'm a teacher, yes, but no idealog or militant.  I accept that - absolutely - teacher quality plays a huge role in promoting student learning.  But I despair at the political/social/moral forces that have caused us, as a nation, to willfully overlook the inconvenient truth that on a comprehensive list of factors that predict/influence student learning, teacher expertise ranks somewhere around #11.  Don't believe me?  Here are 10 factors, each beyond the ability of teachers to influence, that have a huge impact on a student's ability to academically thrive.

  1. Home Environment. A teacher has a student 7 hrs. a day.  But the other 17 hrs. of the day (plus the 5yrs before they start school + weekends + summer vacations) they are at home with family members, being shaped and influenced in ways that absolutely impact their learning.  In homes where children are surrounded by books, immersed in conversation/literature that encourages intellectual curiosity,  and raised by family members who model achievement, children are inherently molded into learners.  Indeed, data proves that kids of parents who went to college are far more likely to go to college.  But what about the millions of students who grow up in homes devoid of books?  Where critical thinking skills are rarely modelled?  Where there is no tradition of educational achievement?  No matter how brilliant a teacher's lesson plan, it can't compensate for these deficiencies.  
  2. Poverty. If public schools are free, then why is poverty an issue?  Frankly, kids who live in poverty have many more pressing things to worry about than academic achievement.  Like whether they're going to eat that day.  Like where they're going to sleep that night.  (If they're going to sleep at all: sleeping on the floor of an overcrowded apartment doesn't lend itself to deep, satisfying slumber.)  Like finding a part-time job to help bring in money for the family.  Like rushing home every day to care for their younger siblings while mom/dad work a second (or third) job.  All of this hugely impacts a child's ability to concentrate at school and complete homework at home.  Nor is that all.  Students raised in poverty have higher levels of absenteeism, are more likely to have gaps in their educational history due to frequent moves, are less likely have access to adequate medical care, are more likely to have disabilities that impact learning*, and are more likely to experience one or more of the other deficits on this list ... all of which negatively correlate with academic performance.  (*I get tired of skeptics shouting: "Poverty doesn't make kids disabled!"  Of course it doesn't - but if the family is poor, it's often because the parent(s) didn't finish high school, which is often due to one or more disabilities that impacted their ability to learn, making it statistically much more likely that their children will inherit disabilities that impact their learning.)
  3. Social & Cultural Factors.  Max-Neef's classic hierarchy of fundamental human needs goes like this:  subsistence, protection, affection, understanding, participation, leisure, creation, identity and freedom.  Social factors such as family instability (divorce, frequent moves), absent parents, insalubrious neighborhoods (gangs, crime, bullying, substance abuse), and neglect (physical, psychological or emotional) undermine almost every single one of these needs, making it extraordinarily unrealistic for students in these situations to focus on academics.  All the worse if one of the cultural issues our students are battling is a pervasive "street bias" against succeeding in school. 
  4. Effort/Internal Motivation/Persistence/Resiliency.  When was the last time you read a biography of a teenage slacker who ended up as a titan of science, politics, or industry? Not saying this doesn't happen, but far more common are stories of individuals who possessed from an early age the drive, courage, and resilience to succeed in spite of any/all odds stacked against them.  Much has been written about the so-called "Entitlement Generation" - children born after ~1970 who believe that achievement is granted rather than earned. Whether or not you agree, the fact remains that students must at some point take responsibility for their own learning. When led to water, they must be willing to drink - which, this generation, means choosing academics over the myriad other distractions competing for their attention: video games, cellphones, social networks, etc.  Because no amount of external motivation [encouragement, active learning, best practices, etc.] will ever compensate for the absence of internal motivation when it comes to student learning.
  5. Cognition/Aptitude.  It's a shame the real world isn't more like Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegon, where "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average." In actual fact, human intelligence is represented by a bell curve, meaning that about 80% of us possess so-called "normal" intelligence, while a smaller percent possess higher than average intelligence and approximately the same percentage possess lower than average intelligence. Many folks in this latter percentage will live full and fulfilling lives.  However, what they won't be able to do, ever, is to demonstrate the higher-level critical thinking skills (making inferences, drawing conclusions, generalizing, etc.) required to master our standard public school curriculum. Which is why the NCLB goal of 100% achievement by 2012 makes me laugh; apparently our legislators weren't paying attention in school when they should have been learning about bell curves!
  6. Learning/Emotional Disabilities.  Even kids with normal cognition may possess physical and emotional disabilities that significantly impact their ability to learn.  Learning disabilities impair such critical functions as short/long term memory, phonological discrimination (the ability to discriminate the sounds that make up words), auditory processing, visual processing, and gross/fine motor skills.  Just try learning multi-step equations in math when you can't process what your teacher is saying and you have a working memory the size of a pea.  And then there are the raft of wrenching emotional disabilities that can impact students as young as kindergarten: depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety, defiance disorders, schizophrenia ...  It's hard to fault a student for failing to place a premium on their education when pretty much all their energy is expended on trying to make it through the another day.
  7. Physical/Neurological Disabilities.  And let us not forget the raft of physical and neurological disabilities that impact student learning as well. In my short teaching career I've encountered hundreds of students with attention disorders, dozens of students with autism spectrum disorders, and a host of students with other neurological challenges (epilepsy, fetal alcohol syndrome, Tourette's Syndrome, Prater-Wiley Syndrome) that impair focus, attendance, and cognitive ability.  While federal/state laws do a good job of assuring that the more obvious physical challenges - physical impairments, blindness, hearing loss - are accommodated, the negative effects of health impairments such as chronic ear infections, toothaches, migraines, asthma, diabetes, and vision/hearing deficits are often overlooked.
  8. Second Language Learners.  As the demographic composition of the U.S. continues to shift, more students than ever are entering the U.S. school system with a limited grasp of English.  This problem is exacerbated by the number of immigrants coming from countries where they may have received little or no education in their native language.  (Why is this important? Because it means they have no foundation in number sense or phonics, skills essential for mastering basic math and English.)  Children are often able to achieve a grasp of "social language" rather quickly, but this masks the fact that mastery of "academic language" takes much longer (4-7) years, and mastery of written language takes longer still (5-10 years) ... and these processes may take even longer if students are returning to households where English is never spoken, further limiting their opportunities to practice the language.  While they may possess the cognitive ability to master the curriculum, these students will not be able to fully  access the necessary instruction until they are first able to master the language in which the instruction is delivered.
  9. Literacy/Cultural Literacy.  You don't hear this one addressed as often as the others, but ask any teacher about major factors impeding the learning of students from families that come from other cultures, speak other languages, or grow up in deprived circumstances, and they'll tell you that their lack of adequate vocabulary and cultural literacy are critical deficits.  Why does vocab matter?  Studies have shown that the number of words a person understands correlates with their ability to comprehend meaning.   Think of it this way - there's a big difference between "he shouted" and "he railed" ... but a kid who doesn't understand the word 'railed' isn't going to perceive that and so will miss out on critical implied meaning.  Why does cultural literacy matter?  Don't want to bore anyone with neurological research, so take me on faith when I say that the way our brains store new information is to "hook it" to existing information, aka "schemas."  As might be expected, a dearth of existing schemas makes it that much more difficult to learn and retain new information.  Don't believe me? Just try teaching The Watsons Go to Birmingham (a middle school literary staple) to students who have no knowledge of the Civil Rights movement, the Ku Klux Klan, Jim Crow laws, the proximity of Mississippi relative to Michigan, comic books, record players, southern dialect, or the fact that if it's cold enough, your tongue will stick to frost on a car.  These kids have an enormous learning curve to tackle before they can even begin to access the curriculum.
  10. Learning Environment.  Here we are down at #10, and only just beginning to touch on what you might call "school factors," one of the most important being the conditions in which students learn.  No matter how skilled the teacher, their effectiveness can be undermined by dozens of physical factors including (but not limited to) over-enrolled classes, poor school discipline, filthy/unsafe classroom conditions, inadequate heating/air conditioning, inadequate time, inadequate resources, excessive administrative requirements, misguided "reform" initiatives, and inadequate administrative support.
  11. Teacher Expertise.  That's right.  Number #11.  Because no matter how much training, expertise and passion teachers bring to the classroom, they aren't the ones drawing their students into conversation over the dinner table, can't singlehandedly rescue their families from poverty, can't fix the rotten families/neighborhoods they live in, can't fill their bedrooms with books, can't deliver lessons in their home language, can't medicate them for headaches, can't make their disabilities go away, and can't teach IQ ... though most of us try to anyway. 
But if all of the above is true, then why do people persist in blaming teachers for students' lack of success?  Because, of course, factors #1 - #10 are so difficult to fix, no one possesses the will or resources to try.  Also, companies that sell curriculum (companies with products aligned to core curriculum particularly) and educational services (testing, technology, charter schools) have an enormous vested interest in making us believe teachers are the problem, because their business model relies on convincing folks that teachers/teaching is "broken" and they are the only ones who can fix the problem ... for a price.

I'm willing to grant that there are bad teachers out there, and that the efforts of unions to protect these teachers from being fired make me wince.  I'm willing to acknowledge that there exist research-based practices that can and do improve student learning, when implemented in sensible ways.  I'm willing to cheerfully attend trainings, to participate in professional mentoring opportunities, and to have my teaching practices consistently monitored and evaluated by professionals in my field to ensure that I am teaching as effectively as humanly possible.

What I'm not willing to grant is that when a student fails, there is inevitably - somewhere - a teacher to blame.  And until society is willing to acknowledge the 2-ton gorilla in the room - that pretending #1-10 don't exist doesn't actually make them go away - all teacher-bashing is going to do is to perpetuate illogical expectations and scare qualified, driven teachers out of the profession.

8/09/2011

Book Look - Arthur & George, Julian Barnes



I enjoyed this book on a variety of levels: as a historic recreation of an obscure but interesting historical incident; as a biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the legendary author/creator of Sherlock Holmes; but also a thoughtful exploration of an enduring literary mystery: how Doyle, a man so dedicated to logic and scientific reasoning, could, in later years, have become infatuated with so infamous a pseudo-science as spiritualism.

As a historic novel/recreation, this is a worthy and highly readable effort. Barnes evokes, with seeming effortlessness, a sure and convincing sense of period: not just the "props" - the clothes , the manners - but the ways in which Victorians viewed the world, their role in the world, and themselves. Barnes is especially strong when recounting the role that circumstance, prejudice, ignorance and pride play in ensnaring Eydalji. These chapters - full of mounting suspense and menace - are among the best in the book and made me miss more than one meal. Moreover, Barnes uses the vehicle of the murder mystery as a chance to explore larger themes such as prejudice (conscious and unconscious), human resiliency, and the evolution of the English justice system.

The story also works as an incomplete but intriguing bio of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, exploring the role that his absentee artist father, his Scottish mother, and his "traditional" British upbringing shaped him into the man that he became, a simultaneous embodiment of the past (ex: his chivalric but rather clueless attitude towards women), the present (ex: he was an avid sportsman, numbered among his acquaintances most of the notable men of the period, and even dabbled in politics), and the future (ex: his Sherlock Holmes stories famously foreshadowed the use of forensic evidence to solve crimes). But make no mistake: this is no homage. Barnes' Doyle may be clever, accomplished, and driven by a sense of honor, but he is also crippled by intellectual vanity.

However, I believe Barnes' primary goal (and greatest achievement) is his exploration of how a man as rational as Doyle - not just the creator of Sherlock Holmes, but a trained medical doctor - can have developed so deep and (seemingly) irrational a fascination with spiritualism. How could the man who gave birth to Sherlock Holmes believe in ectoplasm, telepathy, mesmerism, ouija boards, spirit writing, and (perhaps most famously) fairies? Barnes' depicts Doyle as a man so tormented by rational doubts about organized religion, he finds himself seduced by spiritualism and its promise of providing scientifically verifiable evidence of an afterlife. Alas, however, Doyle's intellectual vanity prevents him not only from identifying the real culprit behind the crimes of which Eydalji is accused, but also prevents him from being able to rationally debunk the spiritualists who successfully manipulate him into believing what he wishes to believe.

Which eventually leads the reader back to the major theme of this story: that people will find a way to believe what they want to believe, no matter how irrational the conclusion. The way a normally "just" justice system came to believe Eydalji guilty of murder. The way Doyle convinces himself that he can love two women without compromising his honor. The way humans continue to believe that the spirits of their beloved dead still walk among us, just waiting for us to find a way to communicate with them.

8/05/2011

Great Literary Feuds



Was recently discussing with a friend the famous Hemingway/Faulkner feud. What elevates literary feuds over your ordinary Hatfield vs. McCoy type disputes, we agreed, is the quality of the epigrams.  Really, does it get much better than: "Concerning no subject would he be deterred by the minor accident of complete ignorance from penning a definitive opinion" - Roger Scruton's homage to George Bernard Shaw?

The upshot of this conversation was a decision to research other famous literary feuds. Turns out there's not really any one good source, so decided to pull together my researches into this one blog post.  I've cited my sources as appropriate, though sometimes I've taken the liberty of adding a snide aside.  I believe Hemingway et. al. would approve.

My research revealed that - not entirely a surprise - Ernest Hemingway was a repeat offender: he also feuded with Wallace Stevens and Gertrude Stein.  Nor is Hemingway the only serial feuder: turns out luminaries including Naipaul, Vidal, Rushdie and Mark Twain have also been involved in multiple disputes. 
  1. Ernest Hemingway vs. William Faulkner. The feud is famous mostly for the epigrams it generated: First, William Faulkner, speaking of Ernest Hemingway: "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." And Hemingway’s response: "Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?" Personally, I think they both make valid points.
  2. Ernest Hemingway vs. Gertrude Stein.  As Hemingway remembered, he and Gertrude Stein were once “just like brothers.” But a froideur grew between the two when Hemingway was disparaging about Sherwood Anderson, whom Stein felt was one of Hemingway’s greatest influences. Later, Stein published an unflattering portrait of Hemingway in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. Hemingway finally took his revenge in A Moveable Feast, in which he criticized Stein’s prose for its use of “repetitions that a more conscientious and less lazy writer would have put in the waste basket.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  3. Ernest Hemingway vs. Wallace Stevens.  After Hemingway heard that Stevens was supposedly trash-talking about him, they got in a scuffle on the streets in Florida. Stevens broke his hand when he punched Hemingway in the jaw. Gotta love Papa for taking it to the street!  [SOURCE: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/famous-literary-fights_n_820022.html#s236399&title=CS_Lewis_vs]
  4. Norman Mailer vs. Gore Vidal.  If Mailer—the violently sexist homophobe—and “exquisite” Vidal have anything in common, it is their love of a good feud. Mailer—whose past opponents include his second wife, whom he stabbed, Tom Wolfe, critic Michiko Kakutani, Truman Capote, and Germaine Greer—was enraged when Gore Vidal compared Mailer’s The Prisoner of Sex to “three days of menstrual flow” and Mailer to Charles Manson. In response, Mailer head-butted him in the green room of the Dick Cavett Show in 1971, and then told him on-air, that he “ruined” Kerouac by sleeping with him. Six years later at a Lally Weymouth soirée, he threw a drink at Vidal, and punched him. Even lying on the floor, Vidal somehow won the match: “As usual, words fail him,” he sniffed. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  5. Truman Capote vs. Gore Vidal.  Capote and Vidal began their lifelong feud in the 1940s. Vidal bitterly resented Capote's usurping of a role he thought rightfully his - the promising young American novelist. "How can you call anyone talented who's only written one book at 23?" Vidal asked. "I've written three books, and I'm only 22!" The pair traded insults for years. Vidal called Capote ''a dumpy little lowbrow" forever peddling "a public relations campaign masquerading as a career". Capote said: "Of course, I'm always sad about Gore. Very sad that he has to breathe every day." Capote's attempt at a reconciliation in 1969 did not stop the insults; when he died, Vidal responded: "Good career move." In his memoirs, Vidal calls Capote "a pathological liar." [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
  6. Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel García Márquez.  In what the Times of London has called "possibly the most famous literary feud of modern times," these two Latin American novelists, who were at one time close, spent more than 30 years not speaking before Vargas Llosa wrote a prologue for the 40th anniversary edition of García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. The reason for the feud? Reportedly, it had to do with advice García Márquez gave Vargas Llosa's wife -- to divorce her husband after he had taken up with another woman. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
  7. Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne.  Melville and Hawthorne were friends for only a couple of years, from 1850, when they met, until 1852, when they stopped corresponding. As to why this was, one possible reason is Hawthorne's inability to get Melville a job with the U.S. government, which, notes the website The Life and Works of Herman Melville, left the Moby-Dick author "embarrassed and chagrined."  [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
  8. Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Ivan Turgenev.  There was no love lost among these three 19th century Russian giants, despite the fact that they had much in common, aesthetically and politically. According to a 2008 piece in Salon magazine, they spent many years sniping (Dostoevsky satirized Turgenev in his novel The Possessed) -- an enmity that came to a head in 1861 when Tolstoy challenged Turgenev to a duel. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
  9. Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. The French poets met in 1871 and became lovers; within a year or so, the relationship grew fraught. In 1873, they reunited in Brussels, but it took only two days before Verlaine bought a gun and got drunk and shot Rimbaud in the wrist. Verlaine was charged with attempted murder and sentenced to a two-year prison term. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
  10. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.  Even in the early days of their relationship, there was an undertone of suspicion on Kerouac's part; in a 1952 letter, he wrote that Ginsberg should "leave me alone . . . & dont ever darken me again." But in the 1960s, after Kerouac rejected the counterculture that he and Ginsberg had helped create, things turned truly virulent, with the On the Road writer veering into anti-Semitism to denigrate his onetime friend. [SOURCE: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/news/arts/la-ca-hemingway-sidebar26-2009jul26,0,7106709.story]
  11. Mark Twain vs. Bret Harte. In his autobiography, written four years after Harte's death, Mark Twain characterized Harte and his writing as insincere. He criticized Harte's writing style, accused Harte of borrowing money from his friends with no intent to repay, and claimed the author financially abandoned his wife and children. If you ask me, though, it doesn't really count as a feud if one of the guys is dead and so (presumably) can't defend himself. [SOURCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bret_Harte]
  12. Mark Twain vs. James Fenimore Cooper.  Another more or less one-sided feud, in which Twain skewers Cooper over perceived deficits in the authors' The Deerslayer and the Pathfinder, which he outlines in an essay entitled: "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses".  Here's an example: "In one place in Deerslayer, and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offences against literary art out of a possible 115.  It breaks a record." Can't find any record that Cooper retaliated: perhaps he just let the sales of his books - which were HUGE - do the talking for him!     
  13. Salman Rushdie vs. John Updike.  In 2006, John Updike panned Rushdie’s novel, Shalimar the Clown, in The New Yorker, asking “Why, oh why did Salman Rushdie, in his new novel call one of his major characters Maximilian Ophuls?'' Rushdie later responded in The Guardian, “Why oh why ...? Well, why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's probably a male prostitute called ‘John Updike’”. He added that Updike's latest novel, Terrorist, was “beyond awful,” and that Updike should “stay in his parochial neighborhood and write about wife-swapping, because it's what he can do.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  14. Salman Rushdie vs. John Le Carre.  Salman Rushdie has loathed John Le Carré for years, believing that the writer had sided with his enemies following the publication of The Satanic Verses. Le Carré responded, saying: "I never joined his assailants. Nor did I [proclaim] him to be... innocent. My position was that there is no law in life... that says great religions may be insulted with impunity." Rushdie said that anyone who questioned him was an "ignorant, pompous, semi-literate unperson", and had the final word in an exchange of letters in The Guardian. "It's true I did call him a pompous ass, which I thought pretty mild in the circumstances," he said. "'Ignorant' and 'semi-literate' are dunces' caps he has skilfully fitted on his own head. I wouldn't dream of removing them." [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
  15. V.S. Naipaul vs. Paul Theroux.  The two writers were friends for decades, with Naipaul acting as a mentor to the younger Theroux. But they fell out in 1996 when Theroux discovered through a bookseller’s catalogue that one of his own books, which he had fondly inscribed to Naipaul and his first wife, was being offered for sale for $1,500. Naipaul told Theroux to “take it on the chin and move on”; Theroux didn’t, and went on to write a book, Sir Vidia’s Shadow, in which he described Naipul’s “elevated crankishness.” Later, Theroux denounced Naipaul’s criticisms of E.M. Forster and Keynes as “the sort of explosive abuse you get from someone whose Valium has worn off.”  However, this fued may be destined for a happier ending than most: at the Hays Festival in 2011 the two authors are reported to have talked and shaken hands. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html; http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/hay-festival/8545401/Hay-Festival-2011-Handshake-ends-a-famous-literary-feud.html]
  16. V.S. Naipaul vs. Derek Walcott.  In his book, A Writer’s People, Naipaul wrote that Walcott “went stale,” and “exhausted the first flush of his talent.” Walcott then wrote “The Mongoose,” a poem about Naipaul, which begins: “I have been bitten, I must avoid infection/Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.” A later part asserts: “The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly/The anti-hero is a prick named Willie.” [SOURCE: http://flavorwire.com/183467/10-notorious-literary-spats/4]
  17. Tom Wolfe vs. Norman Mailer, John Irving, and John Updike.  In 1998, three writers—Mailer, Updike, and Irving—lashed out against Tom Wolfe’s 1998 novel, A Man in Full. "It's like reading a bad newspaper or a bad piece in a magazine. It makes you wince," Irving said. Norman Mailer, writing in The New York Review of Books, compared reading the Wolfe novel to making love to a 300-pound woman: “Once she gets on top it's all over. Fall in love or be asphyxiated.” In his New Yorker review, John Updike wrote that the book “still amounts to entertainment, not literature, even literature in a modest aspirant form.” Wolfe lashed out at each in turn, and collectively called his opponents “the Three Stooges.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  18. Mary McCarthy vs. Lillian Hellman.  The antagonism between author and critic Mary McCarthy and playwright Lillian Hellman is that rare thing—a literary duel between two female writers. In January 1980, as a guest on the Dick Cavett show on PBS, McCarthy called Hellman “a dishonest writer” and claimed that “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’” Hellman—a playwright known for melodrama—responded by filing a $2.25 million lawsuit against McCarthy, Cavett, and PBS. The dispute inspired Norman Mailer—an unlikely advocate of peace—to urge Hellman to drop the case. If she won, he warned, “then every American writer will have to feel that much more tongue-tied at daring to criticize another American writer without qualification.” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  19. Henry James vs. H.G. Wells.  James, revered as the most sensitive of novelists, grew increasingly incensed by the prolific output of H.G. Wells, the ground-breaking writer of science fiction, whom he accused of valuing substance over style. In 1915, Wells published a parody of the master’s long-winded prose and exalted view of literature. A James novel was, he wrote, “like a church lit, but without a congregation to distract you, and with every light and line focused on a high altar, and on the altar, very reverently placed, intensely there, is a dead kitten, an eggshell, a bit of string…” [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  20. Charles Dickens vs. William Thackeray.  With the 1848 publication of Vanity Fair, Thackeray—previously seen as either a hack or a sentimentalist—was suddenly competition for Dickens, perceived by most as the greatest English novelist. Tension built between the two authors so that when Edmund Yates, a gossip columnist on the staff of Town Talk, attacked Thackeray in his column, Thackeray assumed the assailant was Dickens. The literary quarters of the Garrick Club soon became a war-field and—lest the controversy should blow over—Yates reprinted the correspondence between himself, Thackeray, and Dickens in his magazine for all to read. [SOURCE: http://www.thedailybeast.com/galleries/2010/05/21/literary-feuds.html]
  21. Sinclair Lewis vs. Theodore Dreiser. Theodore Dreiser slapped a drunken Sinclair Lewis after Lewis called him a “son of a bitch who stole three thousand words from my wife’s book” at a literary dinner. That slap, fueled not only by alcohol, but Lewis’ suspicion that Dreiser had also slept with his wife, made national headlines. [SOURCE: http://electricliterature.com/blog/tag/literary-feud/]
  22. Edmund Wilson vs. Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov, author of Lolita, and the critic Edmund Wilson fell out after a quarter-century of close friendship. The dispute hinged on the translation of a phrase in Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. The pair met in 1940 in the United States, after Nabokov fled from Paris. Wilson introduced his work to American editors. In their letters they called each other Bunny and Volodya. But when the critic panned Nabokov's Onegin translation, the friendship cooled amidst a public feud. Wilson had also disliked Lolita, a fact that Wilson's biographer Lewis Dabney felt was the real origin of their feud. Nevertheless, Nabokov never badmouthed his old friend, in spite of the dispute. [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]
  23. C.P. Snow vs. F.R. Leavis. In the 1850s poet C.P. Snow gave a very provocative and well regarded speech known commonly now as the Two Cultures lecture.  Never mind what it was about: what you want to know is that, some three years later, famous British literary critic and English educator F.R. Leavis decided to take a blast at Snow’s speech in another noted Cambridge peroration, the Richmond Lecture. In the process, Leavis generated the mid-century equivalent of a spat between Keith Olbermann and Bill O’Reilly. The sheer brutality of Leavis’s assault got everybody talking: It spent far more time denigrating Snow personally than it did dismantling his argument. And ironically, it probably only increased Snow’s fame and notoriety, which by this time placed him among Britain’s and the world’s top tier of public intellectuals. [SOURCE: http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/04/the-science-lover-and-the-snob/]
  24. Albert Camus vs. Jean-Paul Sartre.  Existential death match! The two had a major falling-out over existential philosophy. [SOURCE: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/02/09/famous-literary-fights_n_820022.html#s236399&title=CS_Lewis_vs]
  25. Stephen King vs. James Patterson.  After accepting a lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Booksellers Association, King said of James Patterson, “I don’t like him, I don’t respect his books because every one is the same.” Patterson later replied, “Recently Stephen King commented that he doesn’t have any respect for me. Doesn’t make too much sense — I’m a good dad, a nice husband — my only crime is I’ve sold millions of books.” [SOURCE: http://therumpus.net/2011/06/brush-up-on-your-literary-feuds/]
  26. Bevis Hillier vs. A.N. Wilson.  The feud between rival Betjeman biographers started when Wilson reviewed the second volume of Hillier's three-volume official biography. He called it "a hopeless mish-mash", adding that Hillier wasn't really a writer. One of Hillier's rules in life is: "Who kicks me, gets kicked back." And kick he did, choosing two of Wilson's books as his non-books of the year in The Spectator. One was The Victorians - from which, Hillier pointed out, Wilson had omitted Brunel. The other was Wilson's novel My Name is Legion, which Hillier described as "flabbily plotted". Enraged, Wilson devoted two Daily Telegraph columns to Hillier, one describing him as "old, malignant and pathetic". Wilson then reviewed the third volume of Hillier's Betjeman biography, calling it "naive" and "clumsy". And so on, building to the moment last year when a letter turned up in the Wilson biography purporting to have been written by a mistress of Betjeman's. It was a hoax letter sent to Wilson by Hillier, and the clue lay in the first letter of each sentence. They spelt the message: "AN Wilson is a shit". [SOURCE: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/best-of-enemies-the-truth-behind-a-30year-literary-feud-440035.html]

If you enjoyed these, check out The 50 Best Author vs. Author Putdowns of All Time.  Not all of these erupted into feuds, but most of them should have!