Reading Matters

Gottlieb as editor to the literati

Avid Reader: A Life, by Robert Gottlieb is one of those mesmerizing memoirs where you open to the index and keep thumbing, flipping back and forth and reading in fascinating snatches about Gottlieb’s life as an editor – at The Columbia Review, at Simon & Schuster, as editor-in-chief at Alfred Knopf, as editor of The New Yorker succeeding William Shawn.

The people he’s edited is a Who’s Who of literary heroes – Kurt Vonnegut, John Cheever, Janet Malcolm, Liv Ullman, Toni Morrison, Pauline Kael, Mavis Gallant, Kahlil Gibran, and, yes, even Dale Carnegie.

Here’s Gottlieb on Cheever:

“It was with Cheever’s final book – a novella called ‘Oh What a Paradise It Seems’ – that I had an uncharacteristic moment of editorial uncertainty. I thought the book was extraordinarily beautiful, but I felt a hesitation about its conclusion: It just didn’t seem fully achieved. I recall asking myself who I thought I was, telling John Cheever to rewrite part of his novel. And then I reminded myself that he had chosen to come to Knopf because he wanted me as his editor, and that suggesting changes to writers was what Knopf was paying me to do, so I pulled myself together. He promptly grasped what I was saying to him, and far from resisting or resenting, he immediately strengthened those final pages. A great relief, and a lesson learned.”