REMEMBERING MR. SHAWN'S NEW YORKER by Ved Mehta

REMEMBERING MR. SHAWN'S NEW YORKER

The Invisible Art of Editing

KIRKUS REVIEW

A fond remembrance of legendary New Yorker editor William Shawn and the changes that brought about his dismissal, by a former staff writer who spent three-and-a-half decades at West 43rd Street. Curiously, as this is part of his autobiographical —Continents of Exile— series, Mehta (Up at Oxford, 1993, etc.) sometimes paints his own story with rather broad strokes. Mehta does an extraordinary job, however, in describing what it was like to work with Mr. Shawn (as he insists on calling him) and his day-to-day editorial process. The opening pages are remarkable in demonstrating Shawn’s ability to guide a writer from an initial idea to its shaping as a New Yorker article. But, as the ever- admiring Mehta sums up, Shawn’s technical ability was the least of it: —What informed and animated his editing were his judgment and wisdom, his thinking and vision.— Shawn had been at the helm since 1952, following the death of founder Harold Ross. Mehta’s recollections of his colleagues are often too scant, and one can sometimes sense the damning of his faint praise, as with Roger Angell. But the usual suspects are on hand: A.J. Liebling, Penelope Gilliatt, Edith Oliver, Joseph Mitchell, Lillian Ross, whose —long affair— with Shawn he mentions only in passing. His narrative thickens as he recounts office intrigues, the early intimations of Shawn’s eventual departure in 1987. He finds —tremors— as far back as the mid-1970s when mandatory retirement was instituted, displacing writers and editors intrinsic to Shawn’s style. He also recounts inner-office power struggles that found Shawn turning in his resignation as early as 1978. It didn—t happen, but it had a profound impact on his final years at the magazine. Too admiring, perhaps—as Mehta himself admits, there were too many —long fact pieces that went unread— and the fiction too often —didn—t go anywhere.— Still, the high level of quality Shawn managed week after week is matchless, and Mehta effectively captures that era.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1998
ISBN: 0-87951-876-6
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1998




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