Sunday, October 02, 2016

"Avid Reader", memoir by Robert Gottlieb

This recently published book written by the editor Robert Gottlieb was a treat to read.  It's his publishing work life story as well as the story of his life with family and friends.  As an editor at Simon and Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker, and then back to Knopf, he spent over 55 years somewhere near the epicenter of good writing.  In this book, he meets and works with numerous well known authors, and rubs elbows with many others related to the overall literary community.

Working directly with writers such as Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, Robert Caro, John Cheever, Barbara Tuchman, Michael Crichton, and so many others, even Bill Clinton and Bob Dylan, he has many stories to tell.  In fact, so many that he rarely spends a significant number of pages, or even a full page, discussing any one person.

There are seriously interesting tidbits throughout if many of the books that he edited have been read. It was interesting to read that he viewed "Something Happened" as a superior book to "Catch 22". That view has long been held here but it may not be widespread.  He also more or less shares the opinion that John le Carre's writing diminished in quality after his great success in his early years.

Some of the most interesting stories are from his days as editor of The New Yorker, where he replaced the legendary William Shawn.  His relationships with other staff members work out well in a reasonably short time frame, and he builds strong relationships, professional and, at times, almost familial with writers such as Pauline Kael, Janet Malcolm, and Nora Ephron among others.

His own family life and history is detailed throughout in a somewhat disorderly manner, but the composite when the book is done is clear.  He's had a busy life, and at 80 now he stays busy, always reading and at times still editing.  Building up his life from modest means, he now has a house in Miami Beach, an apartment in the best part of the 6th in Paris,on Rue Jacob between Boulevard St. Germain and the Seine, a country house in Connecticut that his wife loves(he is not a nature man), as well as his digs in Manhattan.  He takes advantage of all places not in the country side.

The one thing that was odd about this book, from this perspective, is that it has very few chapters or breaks.  In a book of a little more than 320 pages, there are chapters as long as 95 pages, 65 pages, and 40 pages.  These chapters have no breaks at all, even of a couple of spaces,  as the stories within them are always changing, on the move.  Gottlieb is an editor so obviously this is on purpose but it is different from the style of many books these days.  Maybe he thinks that most readers are like him, a man who is dedicated to reading books at one sitting if possible.

He is an avid reader.


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