Avid Reader : A Life
by Robert Gottlieb

Overview -

A spirited and revealing memoir by the most celebrated editor of his time

After editing "The Columbia Review," staging plays at Cambridge, and a stint in the greeting-card department of Macy's, Robert Gottlieb stumbled into a job at Simon and Schuster.  Read more...

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    Avid Reader (Paperback)
    Published: 2017-09-12
    Publisher: Picador USA

More About Avid Reader by Robert Gottlieb

A spirited and revealing memoir by the most celebrated editor of his time

After editing "The Columbia Review," staging plays at Cambridge, and a stint in the greeting-card department of Macy's, Robert Gottlieb stumbled into a job at Simon and Schuster. By the time he left to run Alfred A. Knopf a dozen years later, he was the editor in chief, having discovered and edited "Catch-22 "and "The American Way of Death," among other bestsellers. At Knopf, Gottlieb edited an astonishing list of authors, including Toni Morrison, John Cheever, Doris Lessing, John le Carre, Michael Crichton, Lauren Bacall, Katharine Graham, Robert Caro, Nora Ephron, and Bill Clinton--not to mention Bruno Bettelheim and Miss Piggy. In "Avid Reader," Gottlieb writes with wit and candor about succeeding William Shawn as the editor of "The New Yorker," and the challenges and satisfactions of running America's preeminent magazine. Sixty years after joining Simon and Schuster, Gottlieb is still at it--editing, anthologizing, and, to his surprise, writing.

But this account of a life founded upon reading is about more than the arc of a singular career--one that also includes a lifelong involvement with the world of dance. It's about transcendent friendships and collaborations, "elective affinities" and family, psychoanalysis and Bakelite purses, the alchemical relationship between writer and editor, the glory days of publishing, and--always--the sheer exhilaration of work.

Photograph of Bob Gottlieb (c) by Jill Krementz"

  • ISBN-13: 9780374279929
  • ISBN-10: 0374279926
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publish Date: September 2016
  • Page Count: 352
  • Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.15 pounds

Related Categories

Books > Biography & Autobiography > Editors, Journalists, Publishers
Books > Biography & Autobiography > Literary
Books > Business & Economics > Industries - Media & Communications

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2016-08-01
  • Reviewer: Staff

Gottlieb (Great Expectations: The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens), the former head of the Alfred A. Knopf publishing house and ex-editor of the New Yorker, looks back on his exploits taming America’s literary lions in this canny, exuberant memoir. He frames his breezy, loose-limbed narrative around vignettes of his dealings with people in the publishing world and, especially, with the authors he edited, including Lauren Bacall, Robert Caro, John Cheever, Bill Clinton, Joseph Heller, and Toni Morrison. His lengthy account of his controversial 1987 takeover of the New Yorker editorship from the legendary William Shawn—outraged staffers asked him to turn it down—unfolds into a good-humored but probing inquest into the magazine’s cloistered culture. Another section follows his adventures on the board of the New York City Ballet, with brilliant choreographer George Balanchine and brilliant impresario Lincoln Kirstein. Gottlieb’s portraits of the literati are vivid, usually generous, and always clear-eyed (thriller writer Michael Crichton, he allows, has a knack for catchy conceits, although “what wasn’t was a very good writer”). Gottlieb’s depictions of editing sessions really shine as he describes helping each author sculpt a book into its ideal form, and he conveys the enormous energy and creativity of American publishing. Photos. (Sept. 13)

BookPage Reviews

A legendary editor recounts a life in books

Reading Robert Gottlieb’s literary ramblings is more fun than sitting at the elbow of legendary editor Maxwell Perkins and watching him pencil-whip Thomas Wolfe’s manuscripts into shape. A master storyteller, Gottlieb doesn’t just drop names, he cluster-bombs them. Avid Reader gets off to a rather leisurely start as he recounts his early literary enthusiasms while a student at Columbia and Cambridge. But after that, he runs full-tilt through his years mentoring authors at Simon & Schuster, Knopf, The New Yorker and then back to Knopf again as a benign éminence grise. There are also concluding sections on his years working with prominent dance companies and on his emergence as a writer with his own voice.

One of Gottlieb’s duties as an editor was coming up with titles for books and overseeing dust jacket and advertising copy. That being the case, it seems odd at first that the title for his own life story feels so tepid. But the reason soon becomes clear. Ingesting and remembering vast libraries is Gott-lieb’s hallmark. He’s a quick reader, too, he reports, a facility that has enabled him to pass sage judgment on manuscripts virtually within hours of receiving them. One of the headlines that heralded his move from Simon & Schuster blared, “Avid Reader to Head Knopf.”

Joseph Heller, Jessica Mitford, S.J. Perelman, Lauren Bacall, ex-President Bill Clinton, Katharine Hepburn, Toni Morrison, Doris Lessing, John Cheever, Nora Ephron, John le Carré and Bruno Bettelheim are but a few of the literary lambs Gottlieb shepherded—and there are copious personal tales for each. 

It’s interesting to note that William Shawn, the revered New Yorker editor whom Gottlieb replaced amid staff furor, is the only person in the book to whom Gottlieb consistently assigns the honorific “Mr.” He calls Clinton “Bill.” 


This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

BAM Customer Reviews