Second volume of recollections from Offit (Memoir of the Bookie’s Son, 1995, etc.), this one an annotated roll call of the celebrities, literary and otherwise, he’s met in his nearly 80 years.
The disjointed text, loosely organized by theme and chronology, begins and ends with H.L. Mencken, who advised the undergraduate author to collect Willa Cather and never to relight a cigar. Offit starts emptying the celebrity container early—he also knew Russell Baker and John Barth back in Baltimore—and soon famous folks are spilling out like kernels of rice on the kitchen floor. Indeed, there are so many that they soon lose identity and significance. Still, the memoir has some notable moments. Offit credits Robert Frost for steering a desirable co-ed his way; he saw Dylan Thomas in a bar (no surprise there); he was upstaged by Moss Hart; he liked Adlai Stevenson and Betty Friedan and was surprised by the limp handshake of Mike Tyson. His long friendship with Kurt Vonnegut Jr. involved many regular tennis matches. He solicited advice on writing mysteries from half of the Ellery Queen team. Among the few folks with whom he did not get along was Saul Bellow, who pops up a few times to annoy. The author suspected Anatole Broyard was a Creole; he negotiated awkward moments with I.F. Stone and Pearl S. Buck. He saw both Buster Crabbe and a pre-Rocky Sylvester Stallone working out at the gym. He chatted with Langston Hughes and thought John Steinbeck “looked more like a retired fullback than a recent recipient of the Nobel Prize.” Kosinski, Malamud, Mailer, Ellison…on and on the names go, sometimes accompanied by an anecdote, sometimes not. Offit pauses occasionally to praise his wife and make sure we’re privy to compliments he’s received from reviewers and others.
Like a summary of an intimate cocktail party someone held for his 1,001 closest friends.