In his debut, the nonagenarian founder and co-chairman of Sterling Lord Literistic remembers his youth, the founding of his literary agency, some literary lions (and bears), his four wives, success and failure.
It’s not a bad idea to start with a chapter about Jack Kerouac, so Lord begins in 1952 with On the Road, animating the story with an account of his easily defeating Kerouac in a one-on-one basketball contest. Lord tells about his childhood home in Iowa, his early influences (the local library), his considerable tennis skills, his beginning in the bookbinding business before heading off to World War II and meeting his first wife in Paris. After the war, he tried magazine journalism and then took a shot at becoming a literary agent, a job about which he knew little. Good things happened quickly. Rocky Graziano’s Somebody Up There Likes Me did well—as did the subsequent film with young Paul Newman—and soon Lord was representing Kesey, Breslin (one of the only big-time authors to leave the agency) and Southern. There is a touching chapter about his long relationship with Peter Gent (North Dallas Forty), his involvement with political figures and their memoirs, and his good relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. He writes about the struggle to sell David Markson’s The Ballad of Dingus Magee (everyone eventually profited handsomely) and the early success of Quotations from Chairman LBJ, a volume that tanked when, shortly after publication, the president said he would not run for re-election. A significant chapter considers the major success of the Berenstain Bears franchise, which is, oddly, followed by one about his four failed marriages. Near the end come tributes to Kesey and Bill Nack and a few superficial observations about the evolving book business.
Anecdotal and occasionally self-admiring—but some affecting episodes sprinkled throughout.