The Write Stuff

In an era when books are being banned and culture is something to declare war on, let’s pause to celebrate the life of a giant of American literary culture and the most influential editor of our time. Toni Morrison, Joseph Heller, John le Carré, Salman Rushdie, Doris Lessing, John Cheever, Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Sidney Poitier, and Chaim Potok; science fiction by Michael Crichton and Ray Bradbury; histories by Antonia Fraser and Barbara Tuchman; memoirs by former President Bill Clinton and Katharine Graham — these were just a few among the authors Robert Gottlieb shaped, edited, published, and occasionally argued with. The arguing was especially famous when it came to what was perhaps Gottlieb’s most notable (and certainly longest lasting) partnership, with Robert Caro, author of The Power Broker and the Lyndon Johnson multi-volume biography. Robert Gottlieb often imagined he’d mark up the last page of the much-anticipated fifth and final volume of that series and then finally lay down his number 2 pencil. But he knew, more than a decade ago, that the numbers weren’t necessarily in his favor: “Let’s look at this situation actuarially. I’m now 80, and you are 75. The actuarial odds are that if you take however many more years you’re going to take, I’m not going to be here. The truth is, Bob doesn’t really need me, but he thinks he does.” In the end, no obituary of Robert Gottlieb could ever quite do him justice since he’s not around to edit it. NYT (Gift Article): Robert Gottlieb, Eminent Editor From le Carré to Clinton, Dies at 92.

+ David Remnick, editor where Gottlieb was once editor, in The New Yorker: Remembering Robert Gottlieb, Editor Extraordinaire. “At Knopf and The New Yorker, Gottlieb was an editor of unexampled accomplishment—someone who seemed to have read everything worth reading and to have published a fair amount of it, too.” (For you authors out there, consider that Gottlieb, one of busiest people in literature, often got back to writers about their manuscripts the day after they delivered them, or at the latest, “by the weekend.” For that alone, he should be celebrated.)

+ Do yourself a favor and watch Lizzie Gottlieb’s fantastic documentary on her father and his working relationship with Robert Caro, Turn Every Page. At one point during the documentary, we learn that Robert Caro struggled to understand Lyndon Johnson because he couldn’t relate to the people and culture of the Texas Hill Country where Johnson grew up. So Caro moved from NYC to Johnson City, TX, and lived there for three years. You have to get the story before you can tell the story, though that’s far from the only lesson of this anecdote.

Copied to Clipboard