Monday, September 08, 2008

Fun Things in the World

I've become a bit link crazy in recent posts, and I won't slow down now. I blame Google Reader.

First, a quick and provocative quote from Critical Mass, by author Wilfred Sheed:
“The ideal reviewer writes no books at all, lives outside New York but doesn’t resent New York, has no credentials--because every credential is a trap. He simply-- well, how to put it?--has an interest in books.”

Perhaps that's sarcastic, but it seems like a good start to me. Then again, I occasionally groan loudly at awkward reviews from the Boston Globe, so perhaps not.

I know I'm not just link crazy, but Soft Skull / Richard Nash link crazy, but he has another good post, this one on giving books away / selling books. He starts with a quote on giving books as gifts from John Fox but then moves into the awkward equation independent publishers must work out to stay afloat.

Then this article in the NY Times' Sunday Book Review by Jess Row profiles the publication of William Styron's The Confessions of Nat Turner (found via BookNinja). I don't love this Styron book, but I am a fan of Styron, and I don't think he gets his due. As I've mentioned, I worked for the literary agent who represented him in the UK for a year, and actually spoke to him on the phone a couple of times. And according to this article, I have yet another connection to him via a book called William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond, published by my last employer, where I edited books. Who knew?! Anyway, the article is an interesting consideration of using fiction, historical fiction in this case, to wade into contemporary political issues. It also speaks to the ongoing dangers of having writers depict characters from different ethnicities, especially prominent historical figures with so much undocumented myth around them. Styron's pride in this novel, and subsequent defense of it and then shame from it, are all quite fascinating to consider. Perhaps it's useful to keep in mind the debilitating depression he faced as well, chronicled beautifully in Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness, a slim book I'd strongly recommend to anyone who has wondered about friends and family who suffer from clinical depression. He transcribes his experience clearly and movingly, which is why this book holds up so well.

And finally, like many publishing bloggers, I wanted to post a link to the NY Times' obituary for Robert Giroux, editor-in-chief and publisher at the great Farrar, Straus & Giroux who passed away on Friday at the age of 94. This obituary tells of all the great writers who worked with Giroux, as well as the two projects that got away from this legendary editor. The projects? Jack Kerouac's On The Road and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (which I just saw someone in a bookstore reading last night). I love editor stories about the ones that got away!

Not to ruin the obit for you - ugh, how macabre - but the ending quote is wonderful:
[Giroux's ] ambition to write might have prompted an exchange with [T. S.] Eliot, then in his late 50s, on the day they met in 1946, when Mr. Giroux, “just past 30,” as he recalled the moment in “The Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes,” was an editor at Harcourt, Brace. “His most memorable remark of the day,” Mr. Giroux said, “occurred when I asked him if he agreed with the definition that most editors are failed writers, and he replied, ‘Perhaps, but so are most writers.’ ”

A short article in Publishers Weekly quotes current President and Publisher at FSG, Jonathan Galassi: "He was one of the great editors in the history of American publishing, a man of impeccable discernment and sensibility, generosity, and humor, a wonderful raconteur and, above all, a champion of literature.”

And just to throw in a cranky reminder of why I'm writing this stuff, it's sad to go to the FSG website - a publisher of such renowned, literary classics, known for thinking ahead and taking chances - and see the Macmillan banner*, and see no mention of Giroux's passing. If it were still an independent house, there would be a memorial up right away. Instead, you actually have a header on the banner with "Publishers," which, when you put your mouse over it, lists a dozen different publishers all working under Macmillan. That blows. I'm sorry for Giroux, to see that. It makes me especially sad as I was just flipping through the fantastic book The Way It Wasn't: From the Files of James Laughlin, all snippets of things from the great founder of New Directions - a press still proudly independent.

* In 1994, FSG sold controlling interest to the German publisher Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck, a company which also owns Henry Holt and St. Martin's Press. Nonetheless, Farrar, Straus & Giroux has retained much of the freedom of an independent publishing house. (from NY Public Library archive)

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