In The Art of Editing No. 2 with Gordon Lish—the editor of Raymond Carver, Don DeLillo, Joy Williams, Barry Hannah, and Harold Brodkey, and still revered today for his decisive taste and heavy hand—Christian Lorentzen asks, “How can you tell what’s good? How can you tell shit from Shinola?” Lish answers:
Because I’ve got the fucking gift for it. Instinct, call it. Whatever the property, in truth or in delusion, I depend upon it. Without a hitch. I would regard myself as infallibly able to make distinctions between this and that, distinctions others would either not make or would withdraw from acknowledging. I would think, How can they not see? I would sit with Harold Bloom with some regularity, hand over a book I thought highly of, say, Jack Gilbert or Blood Meridian, and wait for him to refuse even to look. Or if he did look, he’d not seem to see in it what I’d see. Later, when he was assembling his Western canon, he stuck in, I believe, McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and the great Suttree. All of McCarthy is great, save perhaps the novel that was so widely read—Horses, All the Pretty Horses, and The Orchard Keeper.
And in the Art of Nonfiction No. 8, our contributing editor, Sadie Stein, takes on a double interview with Jane and Michael Stern, the dynamic duo of food writing and James Beard Award–winning fame.
When you started writing about road food, did you think it was of a piece with the folkways movement that was going on then?
If we didn’t at the start, we very quickly did. The year after Roadfood was published, we published Amazing America. And in Amazing America there are lots of folk-art environments and stuff like that. I think when we absolutely started, when Roadfood was called Truck Stoppin’, we weren’t thinking that it had anything to do with pop culture or folk art, but as soon as we got on the road and started finding guys like Howard Finster and that guy in Wisconsin—
—the guy who collected—
JANE AND MICHAEL STERN
—the oil rags—
—not only did we very quickly realize that that was our passion, but I think it really helped us, in some way, to get a perspective on the food we were writing about. It wasn’t just truck-stop food. It was food that was a cultural phenomenon as well.
For the next in our Writers at Work series, subscribe to The Paris Review now. We can’t tell you much about our Summer issue yet, but we will say it’ll include interviews with Jay McInerney (Bright Lights, Big City) and Norway’s “greatest living novelist,” Dag Solstad.