The Gottlieb Paris Review interview

There’s a great Paris Review interview with editor Robert Gottlieb filled with quotable stuff. A sample:

* “I have fixed more sentences than most people have read in their lives.”

* “Your job as an editor is to figure out what the book needs, but the writer has to provide it. You can’t be the one who says, Send him to Hong Kong at this point, let him have a love affair with a cocker spaniel. Rather, you say, This book needs something at this point: it needs opening up, it needs a direction, it needs excitement.”

* From Toni Morrison, who Gottlieb edited: “I never wrote a line until after I became an editor, and only then because I wanted to read something that I couldn’t find. That was the first book I wrote.” This, incidentally, is also what keeps me writing—wanting to read books that no one else has written, though I suspect Morrison and I have very different tastes.

* A long excerpt from John le Carré:

Negotiations were always tight with Bob. He was celebrated for not believing in huge advances, and it didn’t matter that three other houses were offering literally twice what he was offering. He felt that for half the money, you got the best. Most publishers, when you arrive in New York with your (as you hope) best-selling manuscript, send flowers to your suite, arrange for a limo, maybe, at the airport, and then let you go and put on the nosebag at some great restaurant. The whole idea is to make you feel great. With Bob you did best to arrive in jeans and sneakers, and then you lay on your tummy side-by-side with him on the floor of his office and sandwiches were brought up.

After I finished one book, I think it was A Perfect Spy, my agent called me and said, Okay, we’ve got x-zillion yen and whatnot, and I said, And lunch. My agent said, What? I said, And lunch. When I get to New York I want to be taken, by Bob, to a decent restaurant for once and not eat one of those lousy tuna sandwiches lying on my tummy in his room. Bob called me that evening and said, I think we have a deal; and is that true about lunch? And I said, Yup, Bob, that’s the break point in the deal. Very well, he said. Not a lot of laughter. So I arrived in New York, and there was Bob, a rare sight in a suit, and we went to a restaurant he had found out about. He ate extremely frugally, and drank nothing, and watched me with venomous eyes as I made my way through the menu.

* Gottlieb again:

I happen to be a kind of word whore. I will read anything from Racine to a nurse romance, if it’s a good nurse romance. Many people just aren’t like that. Some of my closest friends cannot read anything that isn’t substantial—they don’t see the point. I don’t, however, like a certain kind of very rich, ornate, literary writing. I feel as if I’m being choked, as if gravel is being poured down my throat. Books like Under the Volcano, for instance, are not for me.

And this again describes me, despite my post On books, taste, and distaste. I think my penchant for Carlos Ruiz Zafón falls into the “word whore” category.

* The main thing he gets wrong is regarding science fiction, where he says of Doris Lessing’s The Sentimental Agents that “like all space fiction, or science fiction, it is underlain by a highly moralistic, utopian impulse.” This isn’t true: a lot of science fiction might be, but it’s hard to argue that, say, Stanislaw Lem’s is, or any number of dark, contemporary SF writers who want to describe things, not change them.

One response

  1. Pingback: Quid plura? | “Und das zehnte Wunder zieht an dir vorbei…”

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