“Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors,” Ernest Hemingway once wrote, with typical pugnacity. But are the critics sometimes right? In this occasional series we'll examine the early careers of now-beloved authors to see what the critics first made of them.
Every profile of Joan Didion begins the same way: some quasi-poetic observation of the slight figure she cuts out there in the world, seguing to a contrast with what has often been called the "steely" quality of her prose. (Most hilariously awkward of these: a 1970 Los Angeles Times profile that tries to sustain an extended metaphor [...]
Author readings and book tours are not an essential component of the writing or publishing processes, and so these events have long been associated with a kind of miasmic purposelessness. Go to your basic reading and sit in the back row, where if you squint, you will see above the head of almost everyone involved—the writer(s)/reader(s), the audience, the publicist, the bookseller, the sales clerk(s) who set up the chairs and must wait around to take them down before heading out to an indie-rock show, the local reporter doing a trend piece on the decline of readings—a clump of thought bubbles bumping up against each other like trapped balloons, [...]
Jonathan Franzen is in my estimation America's best living novelist (OKAY?) and a substantial number of people get upset whenever he writes or says basically anything. It's interesting to ask why! In part it's because his ideas about novels and what people respond to in them are provocative and controversial, and sometimes, as in his recent essay about Edith Wharton, he projects his own responses onto "us" in a way that can be irritating, if we disagree with him. Our opinion about his writing is also affected by of how rich he is and his gender and what he looks like, and that's very hard to talk about. But [...]
Robert Sullivan is almost certainly the only man in the country with a holiday greeting card from Anna Wintour on his fridge and a bestseller about rats on his resume. The former exists because of his 20-year gig as a contributing editor at Vogue; the latter comes as a result of the year he spent observing and chronicling the urban creatures as they lived their lives in an alley near Ground Zero.
In the Brooklyn apartment he shares with his preschool teacher wife and two teenage kids—one who recently took off for college with most of his father's drum set in tow—Sullivan explained how a life spent crisscrossing [...]
A brief primer on writer and lesbian-marrier Robert McAlmon. (Who? Yes.) A writer, publisher, and a connoisseur of the Parisian nightlife, Robert McAlmon was a fixture of the Lost Generation’s expatriate community in Paris in the 20s and 30s. McAlmon took Hemingway out to the bullfights in Spain that he would immortalize in The Sun Also Rises. He typed proofs of James Joyce’s monumental novel Ulysses, and due to the convoluted system of notes and addendums in Joyce’s manuscript, the voice of Molly Bloom that the first generation of readers received was actually McAlmon’s interpretation of Joyce’s. Through his publishing company Contact Editions, he was the first to [...]
For many writers struggling for publication, advertising has proven a useful field (it does pay, after all): F. Scott Fitzgerald, Salman Rushdie, Dorothy Sayers, Don DeLillo, Joseph Heller and Helen Gurley Brown all worked as copywriters early in their careers—some with more success than others. Rushdie came up with "Naughty. But nice" cream cakes for Ogilvy & Mather; Sayers introduced "Just think what Toucan do" to Guinness and founded a dotty, fictional (and wildly popular) "Mustard Club"; and, thanks to Fitzgerald, streetcars in Iowa once ran with the promise "We keep you clean in Muscatine" sparkling on their sides.
Yet for all six, advertising was mostly just a means [...]
"I don’t know why writers are mourning the death of an industry that’s done so little for them for so long…. It’s time writers thought of themselves as an army rather than a city under siege." —What has the publishing industry done for you lately anyway?