A cozy history of the pre-megacorporate world of book publishing.
Don’t tell former Book-of-the-Month Club chief and Viking publisher Silverman that golden ages are mythical creatures. From the end of World War II to around the early years of the Reagan regime, editors published to their tastes, knowing that there would be a market somewhere for almost anything they produced—at least anything meritorious. Silverman approvingly records a visit the fledgling American publisher George Braziller paid to his English counterpart Allen Lane, asking his advice; Lane responded, “Take lots and lots of gambles, but small ones.” Braziller would do so by, among other things, hiring Dick Seaver, who would do fine publishing himself. Seaver worked with Barney Rosset, the great Grove Press publisher, who took plenty of gambles, sometimes rolling the dice against the censors. And everybody knew Roger Straus and Tom Dunne, as part of a nicely incestuous little world in which a few blocks of Manhattan became the center of national culture, at least insofar as it concerned the literate. Silverman neatly blends oral history and narrative history in telling the story of that world, though, happily, he leaves plenty of room for the coin of the realm—namely, gossip. Thus we learn that Straus, courtly and even fatherly to his authors, was a bear when it came to his editors—and to his own son, it seems, who left the family business to become a photographer—and that the sales conferences of old were fueled by red wine and even marijuana, “and then everyone would go dancing till four o’clock in the morning.” Elsewhere Silverman writes of roads not taken and missed opportunities, such as Esquire’s refusal to excerpt Joseph Heller’s now canonical novel Catch-22, Toni Morrison’s travails in finding her first publisher and Little, Brown’s loss of Gore Vidal to Random House over a little matter of real estate.
A pleasing book about books, deserving of a home in a bibliophile’s stacks.