IN THE COMPANY OF WRITERS: A Life in Publishing by


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Life in the Scribner family publishing house, from WW II through the merger with British-owned Macmillan six year ago. The author is the fourth Charles Scribner to run the famed publishing house that lit up American literature with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Wolfe, as well as James Jones, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, and others. This is a pleasant pub-biz read that reaches its most gripping during a long chapter on managing Hemingway's late and posthumous works. Charles, a Latin and Greek scholar and also a cryptanalyst during WW II and the Korean War, was surrounded by books from birth and knew he would grow up to run the family shop. His father broke him in on the advertising end, and, with no training, he found himself writing flap copy and dullish ads, often for books he'd never read. Hindsight reveals that the house was mired in its literary reputation and had not diversified its interests strongly enough beyond trade books. This led Charles to start up what became a vast reference books division whose twin cornerstones were the Dictionary of American Biography and Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Earlier, however, he'd been handed Hemingway as his personal property. Charles kept a respectful distance from the peppery Papa, who nonetheless warmed to him. We watch Hemingway break down into a shy, sick, burned-out writer, although Charles recovers all paperback copyrights and packs them into one student-oriented trade line for Scribner's that earns Hemingway more than his books had ever earned before. Charles defends publishing Hemingway's letters against the author's wishes but--alas--does not seriously enter into the argument that Scribner's mishandled the deep editing of The Garden of Eden, whose publication caused a war among New York intellectuals. Smoothly done but not as richly into the nuts and bolts of editing as earlier works about this house and its editors (such as those about Maxwell Perkins).

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Scribners