Thursday, May 3, 2007

Another Life, by Michael Korda

Another Life is pretty much the perfect roman à clef - although that's not necessarily a compliment, since good romans à clef are by definition dishy and a bit nasty. Korda has the kind of sly, subtly cruel wit that makes for really juicy reading - and, as editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster for many years, his targets are the movers and shakers of publishing, be they authors, agents, or corporate executives.

The book is a great history of publishing in the latter half of the twentieth century - the fall of the family run houses, the rise of the conglomerates, the changing roles of editors, the birth of the celebrity memoir, the synergy between television and books. He skims across the more glamorous highlights of his career - flying to Italy to discuss a movie deal in a lavishly appointed villa, putting on a bolo tie on his way to woo Larry McMurtry, endless lunches in New York's finest restaurants, driving his little Porsche out to Jersey to visit Richard Nixon. This is when he's not talking about a childhood spent (at times) on a yacht in the Riviera, getting to know Orson Welles and Graham Greene.

At times I found myself really enjoying the book - it's hard not to enjoy, since it manages to be both informative and a guilty pleasure all at once - and really liking the author. He's obviously energetic, curious, and adventurous - not to mention smart, funny, and very well-read. But at times I found myself loathing him, for the savage, needling way he described so many of the individuals in his novel, for his false modesty, and especially for his unbelievable attempts to whitewash his own personality - his protests that he was the least ambitious of men and happened to simply fall into the various social maneuvers and key friendships that made his career ring very, very false. That and the only-too-familiar pseudo-apology with which he dismisses his own philandering.

I'd recommend it to anyone, if only because it's so FUN, but it's not the kind of book I could ever love.

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