You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
That worked for him. It should probably work for you as well.
But, as The Atlantic points out, while Leonard kept things pretty tight (only 49 exclamation marks per 100,000 words), other writers let fly and didn’t necessarily suffer for it. James Joyce, for instance, reveled in exclamation marks, averaging about 1 per every 100 words.
So listen to Leonard if you like. But then you’ll never write Finnegans Wake.
Well, not literally. A cursory glance at Samuel Beckett’s biography does not indicate any particular love for sea or boats, though there is an annual Beckett festival in Enniskillen where at least one performance can only be reached by boat.
But never mind, because even though Beckett was no great joiner or lover of institutions, the Irish government has gone ahead and named a warship (OPV, or offshore patrol vessel, technically) after the author of Waiting for Godot.
According to the Irish Times, the LE Samuel Beckett was completed in April and was commissioned at a special ceremony in Dublin in May. It will eventually be joined by a second patrol vessel, the LE James Joyce. Hopefully the two can prowl the Irish Sea together in elegant futility, crews pensively pondering the waves and composing quatrains in dead languages…
Sylvia Beach was one of those fantastic Lost Generation figures who worked diligently in the spaces between literary figures like Hemingway and Fitzgerald but doesn’t get remembered nearly as often. Likely that’s because booksellers —she ran Paris’ famous Left Band expat hangout Shakespeare and Company—never quite get the same attention that book authors do.
Beach was also a smart businesswoman. Trying to drum up some sales for in James Joyce’s forthcoming Ulysses, she wrote to George Bernard Shaw in 1921, asking whether he as a fellow Irishman, would be interested in pre-ordering a copy. Shaw’s negative response was swift, definite, and for the ages:
To you possibly [Ulysses] may appeal as art … but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard and taken part in those conversations. I escaped from them to England at the age of twenty; and forty years later have learnt from the books of Mr. Joyce that Dublin is still what it was, and young men are still driveling in slack-jawed blackguardism just as they were in 1870. It is however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it….
I must add, as the prospectus implies an invitation to purchase, that I am an elderly Irish gentleman, and if you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for such a book, you little know my countrymen.
There’s something about James Joyce’s last and arguably unreadable novel Finnegans Wake that has always attracted the obsessive. Fans range from Marshall McLuhan—who, one critic quipped after reading his manic interpretations, was possibly the only living person to have read every single line of the book—to those various reading clubs that have popped up where people read a couple pages each meeting over the course of many years.
Now, after one woman spent eight years doggedly translating what Joyce’s wife termed “that chop suey” into Mandarin, the book has proven to be surprisingly successful in China. Per the Wall Street Journal:
A newly affluent nation that prizes black Audi sedans and Louis Vuitton handbags has made a literary status symbol of what may well be English literature’s most difficult work. Thanks in part to a canny marketing campaign involving eye-catching billboards and packaging, “Finnegans Wake” sold out the first, 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December. The book briefly rose to No. 2 on a bestseller list run by a Shanghai book industry group, just behind a biography of the late Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s modern-day boom.
Perhaps it’s a sign of increasing affluence that people have the inclination to acquire status novels that they have little intention of actually reading.