Posts Tagged ‘The New York Review of Books’
January 10, 2014 | by Max Ross
Dear Mr. Ross,
Thank you for sharing with us your review of Claudia Roth Pierpont’s Roth Unbound. The piece is colorful and sharp, and it is with regret that we say it does not suit our needs at this time.
Too much of the writing reflects back to the writer himself—to you yourself. (And, inexplicably, to your father.) While we certainly don’t mind personal inflection, and even tolerate the insertion of an occasional “I,” a review must be grounded more firmly in the subject or book under consideration. (And less so in the reviewer’s father.)
Critiques such as yours are redolent of ego. We say this not as admonishment, but as something of which you may want to be aware as you continue what looks to be a promising writing career. We wish you the best of luck in placing this piece elsewhere, and will be happy to consider your queries in the future.
The New York Review of Books
The difficulties began when I attempted to write, for The New York Review of Books, a review of Claudia Roth Pierpont’s critical biography of Philip Roth. My intention was simple: to demonstrate that I appreciated Roth’s work with a higher degree of sophistication than Pierpont. But articulating my Sophisticated Appreciation was tough to do. At first this didn’t bother me—an inability to articulate one’s Sophisticated Appreciation, I reasoned, may itself be proof of how complex and nuanced that appreciation is.
I’d been invited to submit to NYRB based on the success of an essay I’d written about Philip Roth for The New Yorker’s Web site. (An NYRB editor had e-mailed me to commend its “substantial humorousness,” and asked me to pitch an idea his way.) I wanted badly to be published in NYRB. I had some friends who’d been published in NYRB, and I was jealous of them. Moreover, my father is an avid NYRB reader—“It’s so wonderfully stuffy,” is his line; “the official periodical of leather armchairs and lowballs of Scotch”—and placing an essay in its pages, I believed, would recompense him for having twice paid my tuition to the universities where I’d learned to appreciate things sophisticatedly. (He would be pleased, too, to learn that I’d written something that wasn’t about him, as opposed to everything else I’d published—excepting the Roth piece—since finishing graduate school.)
NYRB’s editors expected six thousand words from my desk. Yet for several days I was too nervous to begin. More than anything else, the review would need to establish for NYRB’s readership how intelligent I was—establishing the writer’s intelligence seemed the purpose of most NYRB reviews, and I have always liked to fit neatly into prevailing systems. If it didn’t prove my intelligence, though, my review could only prove my lack thereof, and nothing was more terrifying to me than the idea of being exposed as intellectually inadequate. Read More »
May 7, 2012 | by The Paris Review
On April 3, Robert Silvers accepted the Paris Review’s Hadada Prize for a strong and unique contribution to literature. These were his remarks.
When something like this evening happens, you ask how you got here, and I thought back to the autumn of 1954, when I was a soldier at NATO military headquarters—called SHAPE—near Paris. One of the best things about working there was that, by some international understanding, practically everyone had Wednesday afternoon off—you could go to the Louvre, you could go to the Café de Flore. And there, one Wednesday afternoon, at the kiosk in front of the Flore, I bought a copy of The Paris Review and took it back to our international barracks at Rocquencourt and read it in my bunk. I thought I should know more about it.Read More »
April 2, 2012 | by John Banville
Our Spring Revel will take place tomorrow, April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
“I first met Robert Silvers in 1989 at a party that George Plimpton gave for me at his apartment on Sutton Place.” It would be hard to exaggerate how gratifying it is to be able to write down such a sentence. Those were heady days. My novel, The Book of Evidence, had been shortlisted for that year’s Booker Prize, and I was riding on the crest of a wave that, as it turned out, would quickly run into the sands, though the ride was fine while it lasted. I may not have been exactly the toast of New York, but an evening at George’s place that included an encounter with the editor of The New York Review of Books was bubbly enough for me.
Bob that night inquired where I was staying in New York and said he would “send something round.” When I got back to my hotel room there was a parcel waiting for me, containing Denis Donoghue’s memoir Warrenpoint, along with a note from Bob asking if I would write on it for the NYRB. At least, that was what it seemed to be asking, for this was my first experience of Bob’s handwriting and it took a good ten minutes of peering and squinting before I had deciphered enough of the message to guess at the overall import.
I have had many notes from Bob since then, most of them brief and all of them hard to read, but never less than courtly in tone. The few longer ones have tended to be typed, on what is evidently a real typewriter. This last is oddly comforting; somehow a man who continues to type is a man one can trust. Read More »
March 29, 2012 | by Claire Messud
Our Spring Revel will take place on April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
My first encounter with Robert Silvers was with his sonorous and elegant voice, with its precise, slightly British diction. It must be said that most of my encounters over the years have been with the voice rather than the man, as we’ve met in person only a few times.
I first heard the voice in the summer of 1988. Back in the States after my first year of graduate school at Cambridge University, I somehow landed a job in the advertising department at The New York Review of Books. I can’t imagine I came by it entirely honestly, but I have no recollection of whose kindness may have opened the door. This was at the old address, 250 West Fifty-seventh Street, where entering the offices felt somehow like slipping in a back door, because you were immediately dwarfed by books. Mountainous, heavily laden shelves overhung the narrow, dark corridors, and people scurried quietly among them as if in fear—fear, I always thought, that like Leonard Bast they would be crushed by knowledge.
In the several months I worked in those offices—in the domain of Catherine Tice, at the elbow of a brassily confident assistant named Kim—I never laid eyes on either Bob or Barbara. (I had, on the other hand, many mad and wonderful conversations with the late Bob Tashman, who roved the office with apparently much time on his hands and who, although balding, had an impressive corona of hair emerging from his shirt collar. His long-worked-upon American Decameron, alas, we will never now see.) Bob and Barbara’s offices were down long tributaries of the book-lined hallways, unenterable by the likes of me. But I did, upon occasion, hear the magical voice. It was like hearing the Wizard of Oz. Whether he was speaking on the telephone or to an assistant, his interlocutors were inaudible, the authority of his inflections absolute, and his physical presence purely notional. Read More »
March 22, 2012 | by Louis Begley
This year our Spring Revel will take place on April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
Writers dream. They dream more than most people. Writers dream of sex, of fat advances and big sales. They dream of fame. When they get serious, they dream of being published by the ideal publisher and being edited by the ideal editor. From 1993, when he bought my first novel, Wartime Lies, until October 2002, when he died, shortly after publishing my sixth novel, Schmidt Delivered, Siegfried Unseld, the head of the German publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag, was my ideal publisher. A giant of a man, Siegfried loved books passionately and physically, the way other men can love wine. Siegfried didn’t publish books, he published authors. A writer lucky enough to be one of them could feel invulnerable: Siegfried believed in his work, and Siegfried couldn’t be wrong.
I have long been afflicted on and off by “regular contributor” envy, wishing disconsolately that in the list of writers whose names appear in The New York Review of Books my name were followed by that tag. It’s an absurd pretension, since its fulfillment would have meant upending my life and career. I suffer from it only because the ideal editor of my—and I would guess every writer’s—dreams is another giant of a man, Robert B. Silvers, the editor, brain, and heart of the NYRB. When I write a piece for his magazine, of course I have the immeasurable good luck to be edited by him. There is no experience quite like it. Bob knows everything that’s worth knowing, a consequence of his unflagging curiosity. I recall sitting next to him years ago at a Council on Foreign Relations meeting. While the energy minister of an OPEC country, the name of which I have forgotten, droned on, I stole a glance at Bob, who could no doubt recall it instantly. He was busily taking notes, in a tiny but precise scrawl. My mind was in neutral, in fact I was struggling against sleep; his was fully engaged. Later he told me that taking quick and accurate notes was a habit he’d formed soon after college, working for the Connecticut politician and diplomat Chester Bowles. It’s just one of his useful habits, along with reading everything that deserves his attention and deploying, when the occasion presents itself, a powerful crawl stroke. Read More »
February 29, 2012 | by Sarah Funke Butler
When Vladimir Nabokov started teaching Russian literature at Wellesley College in 1944, he was frustrated by the lack of an adequate literal translation of Eugene Onegin, which he referred to as “the first and fundamental Russian novel.” He prepared his own extracts for class use and invited Edmund Wilson to work with him on a full translation.
Wilson had nurtured Nabokov’s early career in the States, and Nabokov had reciprocated with many generous hours of patient tutorial—often via letter—on the finer points of Russian literature, history, politics, and scansion. The two had grown to be great friends but never collaborated on a full-length work. The 1964 publication of Nabokov’s solo translation of Onegin effectively ended their friendship and sparked one of the best-known intellectual debates of the last century.
The project began promisingly enough for Nabokov, though Wilson had misgivings from the get-go. When Nabokov first decided to prepare a prose translation of Onegin, “with notes giving associations and other explanations for every line,” Wilson and Nabokov had been exchanging letters about Russian poetics for a decade, often with barely masked stridency on both sides. In 1950 Wilson expressed fatigue: “I am getting rather tired of all these topics and think we ought to start something new.” When he learned that Nabokov has decided to devote his Guggenheim Fellowship—achieved, in part, through Wilson’s recommendation—to the Onegin project, he complained: “I wish you had given them some other project—it seems to me a pity for you to spend a lot of time on Onegin when you ought to be writing your own books.” Nabokov, however, wasn’t worried: in his application he wrote that it would take “a year or so,” and told Wilson the work could be “quite smoothly combined with other pleasures.”
A year later he wrote how much more arduous a project it had turned out to be: “I was … on the verge of a breakdown and not fit for company. For two months in Cambridge I did nothing (from 9 A.M. to 2 A.M.) but work on my commentaries to EO.” Still later, it seemed he had met his whale. He wrote to Katharine White, his friend and New Yorker editor, that the “monster” had “grown far beyond whatever I planned originally.” He told Wilson, “I have at last discovered the right way to translate Onegin. This is the fifth or sixth complete version I have made.” At the end of the summer of 1957 he admitted more confidentially to his sister, “I hope that I can finally, finally finish my monstrous Pushkin … I am tired of this ‘bookish exploit’.” Read More »