Not Really A Book Review

by Gary Allen

Several people have suggested that I should consider reviewing my book—Sausage: A Global History—under pseudonym. There is, after all, a long history of authors surreptitiously writing reviews of their own books (“long” and “history” usually have the word “noble” stuck between them, but that hardly seems appropriate here).

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman published several reviews, anonymously, of Leaves of Grass, in which he described the book as “transcendent and new.” It must have been difficult for him to accept anonymity, and not be able to take credit for the reviews as well. He also printed a copy of a private letter from Emerson — on the back cover of Leaves of Grass—extolling the virtues of the book. The transcendentalist from Concord, by the way, was none too pleased about becoming American publishing’s first blurbist.

When one can’t write one’s own reviews, there’s always bribery. Faulkner paid Alexander Woolcott five hundred bucks to praise Sanctuary on his radio program (and you thought Allen Freed had invented payola).

Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

An over-​​developed ego is one of the characteristics that make it possible for a writer to keep slogging through the inevitable years of rejection. After being asked to choose the best hundred books ever written, Oscar Wilde once demurred, “I fear that would be impossible, I have only written five.” Gertrude Stein once asked — in all seriousness — “Besides Shakespeare and me, who do you think there is?” The ego of James Joyce could be easily satisfied: “The only demand I make of my reader is that he devote his whole life to reading my works.”

Franz Kafka

Franz Kafka

Struggling back from that digression… it is important for writers to develop a network of other literary types upon whom they rely for a supply of blurbs and favorable reviews. Having friends write the reviews, repaid with gushing raves about their works, is always a good plan. Entering literary contests sponsored by one’s publisher, and judged by the very friends with whom one has been exchanging public praise, is another profitable technique. Kafka successfully parlayed all these tricks to promote The Metamorphosis. Anthony Burgess went even further: he wrote a rave review of Inside Mr. Enderby, a book he himself had written under the pseudonym “Joseph Kell.”

Occasionally writers have been able to promote their work through other forms of chicanery. Writing, like politics, is near the top of the list of mendacious occupations.

Washington Irving created a demand for Knickerbocker’s History of New York with fake news stories. On 26 October 1809, he placed a missing persons notice in the Evening Post about an old man named Knickerbocker. On 6 November, another notice — this time with an alleged sighting near Albany — appeared in the paper. Ten days later, a notice from Knickerbocker’s landlord, Seth Handaside, announced his discovery of a manuscript in the old man’s room. On the 28th, a printer, Inskeep & Bradford, announced the publication of “A History of New-​​York, in two volumes, duodecimo. Price three dollars.” The notice explained, “This work was found in the chamber of Mr. Diedrick Knickerbocker, the old gentleman whose sudden and mysterious disappearance has been noticed. It is published in order to discharge certain debts he has left behind.” Irving’s book came out on December 6th, to great acclaim — and no one seemed to mind at all that they had been victims of a hoax, let alone America’s first great publicity stunt.

GB Shaw

George Bernard Shaw

George Bernard Shaw used a tactic similar to Washington Irving’s — but not to promote a particular book. He used false newspaper reports to promote himself. He wrote, under pseudonym, a series of articles by a truly obnoxious reporter who interviewed an unknown author named George Bernard Shaw. Shaw — never the model of modesty — once boasted, “People must not be forced to adopt me as their favorite author — even for their own good.”

Upton Sinclair

Upton Sinclair

Before Upton Sinclair’s book, The Jungle, made him a household name, he was just another hack writer trying to get by. When he finished writing the novel Journal of Arthur Stirling, he placed a fake obituary for the title character in The New York Times: “By suicide in the Hudson River, poet and man of genius, in the 22nd year of age, the only son of Richard T. and Grace Stirling, deceased, of Chicago.” That brief notice, and the later discovery of the hoax, only boosted sales of the now-​​forgotten novel.

While I have no qualms about becoming as self-​​servingly venal as the writers listed above, I don’t think I’ll actually review Sausage: A Global History. I do like the book, but that doesn’t tell you much does it?

No, I think I’ll just share some of the things that didn’t make it into the final book. It’s a small book, part of a series of similar small books, so I had to trim away half of the original text. Also, after the book was written, edited, and in production, I learned that one of my former students — now a chef in Maryland — has started producing jerked sausage. Mark Henry was born in Jamaica, studied at the CIA, and now has a company called Island Bwoy Cuisine: website: His combining of flavors and techniques from multiple cultures is a perfect example of the way sausages have evolved throughout history — and would have fit beautifully into the book’s text (had I known about it in time). His site includes recipes, and one is curiously similar to this simple one we’ve been making for years — but is not in the book:

Sausage with Reduced Cream

Enough sauce for a half-​​pound of pasta — preferably shaped pasta, something that can carry lots of the unctuous sauce.


1 Tbsp. mild-​​tasting olive oil
½ lb. salsiccia, sweet Italian sausage, crumbled
2 Tbsp. sherry (not cooking sherry — it’s too salty)
½ pint heavy cream
½ cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
pinch. nutmeg, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste


1.While the pasta is cooking, sauté the crumbled sausage in oil, in a large skillet — breaking up the pieces as much as possible. It should be well-​​browned.

2.Pour off the excess fat, and deglaze the pan with sherry. (these first two steps can be done ahead of time)

3.When the sherry has evaporated, stir in cream, nutmeg, and cheese. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened.

4.Drain cooked pasta — reserving some of the cooking water — and add to the skillet. Toss to coat. If the pasta seems too dry, add a little of the reserved cooking water.

5.Serve with a green salad; a tangy vinaigrette will complement the rich sauce.

Should you wish to make your own salsiccia, the recipe is on page 120 of Sausage: A Global History. Just because I’m not actually reviewing my own book doesn’t mean you get to escape without encountering one last plug.

Gary AllenGary Allen’s most recent book is Can It!: The Pleasures and Perils of Preserving Foods, his third book from Reaktion. You can find more of his speculations about things he has been known to (but really shouldn’t) put in his mouth — his own foot being a prime example of the latter — on his website:  onthetable​.us 

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