Thursday, June 10, 2010

In the Company of Writers by Charles Scribner Jr.

In the Company of Writers is, more or less, a publishing memoir.  The author, one in a long line of Charles Scribners, helmed Scribners during a pretty fascinating, transitional period in the industry - and in his own company.  He took over at the tail end of the Max Perkins era, when Scribners was a powerhouse of major voices in literature (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc.), and stayed on through the company's merger with Macmillan, when Scribners became an imprint of a major conglomerate instead of an independent company.

He's so matter-of-fact about the position of privilege he was born into that it's impossible to resent him for it, and he didn't squander his advantages - he had an excellent education, for example, and so he became a student of Latin and Greek, was passionate about the history of science, and had an active life of the mind well into his twilight years.  He seems - and, really, it's impossible to know the truth through the text - but he seems like a true gentleman, in the best sense of the word.  And he describes his years at Scribners, working with authors like Hemingway, coping with the paperback revolution, and just generally staying afloat, with appealing candor.  There are some great little anecdotes, too.

Either because the author himself was influenced stylistically by his authors, or because much of the book was crafted out of an oral history (Scribner was too old to undertake a memoir on his own, so he told his story and let someone else do the writing), or thanks to the intermediary who translated Scribner's speech into text, the book is gorgeously written and gives a stylistic nod to Hemingway.  Before I read Hemingway, I really resented the overwhelming influence he has exerted on American writers.  Now that I've read Hemingway, I wish more people would write like him.  I guess that's how it goes sometimes.  So the prose here is gorgeous, and it's a pretty quick, easy read.

I really liked this book.  It captures a time and a place, and it seems really wise to me.

1 comment:

sandra said...

I'd like to read it -- will you share your copy with me?