WORDS STILL COUNT WITH ME: A Chronicle of Literary Conversations by Herbert Mitgang

WORDS STILL COUNT WITH ME: A Chronicle of Literary Conversations

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This collection--with more than 30 years' worth of Mitgang's writings--pleasantly commingles interviews with novelists, poets, and historians with personal reflections. Most originally published in different form in the New York Times, the New Yorker, the Nation, and elsewhere (though some are new), Mitgang's pieces have in common a straightforward style and intelligently compressed details. These uniformly short and personable interviews (typically without any agenda) are more simply conversations. Nabokov and Beckett, for instance, refused to be quoted but talked so affably, the encounters resulted nonetheless in lively portraits. Some writers play off their surroundings--Nelson Algren and Studs Terkel in a bar backroom, Christopher Isherwood in Hollywood--while others, such as Rebecca West, Saul Bellow, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, are pure conversationalists. Although little seems to change over time in either Mitgang's tastes or authors' concerns with art, his selection of subjects has both a broad range and eclectic affinities. His love of Italian literature encompasses Ignazio Silone, Eugenio Montale, Italo Calvino, and Primo Levi, and his taste for entertainment in literature runs through interviews with Georges Simenon, Anthony Burgess, Irwin Shaw, and Elmore Leonard. His liking for the thick novels of James Jones, Herman Wouk, and James A. Michener is matched by the histories and reportage of John Hersey, Barbara Tuchman, and Theodore H. White. The collection of 60-odd interviews is neatly rounded out with seven essays on literary landscapes--Fitzgerald's West Egg, Willa Cather's Santa Fe, the literary circles of Tokyo and Prague--but unfortunately Mitgang's introduction on writing and interviewing is too rambling and unoriginal. Diverting and stimulating, this intimate record of the literary community has the feel of both working a cocktail party and browsing a bookstore.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1995
Page count: 300pp
Publisher: Norton