Jerry Bauer/Little, Brown
The first cover of The New Yorker magazine. Illustration by Eustace
issued on Feb. 21, 1925. Price 15 cents.
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They range from sniping to straightforward. Random House is publishing
of them, including "Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker,"
and "Life Stories: Profiles from the New Yorker," both edited by David
Remnick, who succeeded Tina Brown as the magazine's editor in 1998. Random
House's Modern Library is bringing out "Letters From the Editor," the words
of the magazine's founder, Harold Ross, edited by his biographer Thomas
Ben Yagoda's "About Town: The New Yorker and the World it Made," (Scribner)
draws on the magazine's archives at the New York Public Library. "Some Times
in America" (Carroll & Graf), by Alexander Chancellor, is about his year in
the mid-1990's as editor of the Talk of the Town section.
Simon & Schuster is publishing "Janet, My Mother and Me," by William
a New Yorker writer whose mother, Natalia Danesi Murray, was a lover of the
New Yorker columnist Janet Flanner, and "Gone," a gossipy account by a former
contributor to the magazine, Renata Adler.
Ms. Adler's book, which is causing the most stir, depicts The New Yorker
snake pit of intriguers and flatterers trying to curry favor with successive
editors. "Gone" is a catalog of slights Ms. Adler she says she suffered when
she worked at the magazine intermittently from 1963 to 1989. (She also served
as a film critic for The New York Times in 1968.)
Her complaints are specific, like recalling when William Shawn, Ross's
successor as the editor of The New Yorker, wanted to cut an article, or when
Shawn scheduled pieces and then dropped them.
She also says fellow staff members did not like her writing and that
fiction department said that one story she wrote was not fiction at all. Ms.
Adler asserts that the fiction editors had conflicts of interest because they
were vying to publish their own short stories in the magazine.
Last year Charles McGrath, a former New Yorker fiction editor who is
editor of The New York Times Book Review, wrote a letter to Ms. Adler's
editor at Simon & Schuster, protesting that an event described in the book
never happened. The material was removed. Mr. McGrath said he had decided to
distance himself from reviews about the current New Yorker books.
Roger Angell, chief fiction editor during Ms. Adler's tenure, called
depiction "wildly inaccurate." Ms. Adler declined to comment for this
article. "I think I've said enough about my book," she said.
Another of her targets is Lillian Ross, whom Ms. Adler accuses of making
factual errors in "Here but Not Here" (Random House), her 1998 memoir of her
40-year affair with Shawn.
Some of Ms. Adler's jibes at Ms. Ross seem trivial. For instance, Ms.
says Ms. Ross incorrectly described the apartment of Hannah Arendt, a New
Yorker contributor. But others are more provocative. She says that Ms. Ross
"unconsciously, disliked and even despised" Shawn.
Ms. Ross said she had not read the Adler book. "If they haven't done
writing for 20 years or so, and they attack other people, that's their
business," she said.
Ms. Adler says that Robert Gottlieb, who succeeded Mr. Shawn as editor
1987, and Tina Brown, who followed Mr. Gottlieb in 1993, caused the downfall
of the magazine. Mr. Gottlieb was self-centered and uncurious, she complains,
and talked to her in his office with the door open instead of closing it as
Mr. Shawn did.
"I always enjoy Renata in her attack-dog mode," Mr. Gottlieb said, "even
I'm one of the victims. I can't take this particular attack very seriously
because it's both so wacky and so bizarrely inaccurate."
Ms. Brown, whom Ms. Adler called a spendthrift who printed gossip, did
respond to a request for comment.
A particular target of Ms. Adler is the writer Adam Gopnik, a protégé
Gottlieb. Mr. Gopnik was a hand-wringing sycophant, she writes, who spoke in
"a strange alternating current of flattery and self-promotion." Ms. Adler
also complains that when Ms. Brown took over, she made Mr. Gopnik her
Mr. Gopnik said he had no intention of reading Ms. Adler's book.
While Ms. Adler's book is personal, Mr. Yagoda's "About Town" is a
traditional history. He describes the young John Updike trying to sell his
cartoons to the magazine. "I would like some information on those little
filler drawin you publish and, I presume, buy," he wrote when he was 17,
leaving the last two letters off "drawings." William Maxwell, an editor at
The New Yorker, described Mr. Updike then as a "shy, intelligent humorous
youngster, slightly gawky in his manner and already beginning, being an
artist, to turn it into a kind of style."
But, Mr. Maxwell's judgment wasn't always foolproof. When W. H. Auden
him the famous poem that became " Sept. 1, 1939," he turned it down, writing,
"It is an effective poem but in its entirety not right for us."
Mr. Kunkel's book recounts that even James Thurber's drawings were subject
the magazine's fact-checking process. "There is an actual fish called the
pout," Ross wrote Thurber about a series of drawings he did of imaginary
animals. "There is a bee called a lapidary, but you have drawn an animal. You
have a clock tick. There is, of course, a tick. No matter, I say. There is a
bird called a ragamuffin. You have drawn a ragamuffin plant. No real
Altogether at least 22 books have been written about The New Yorker.
it that makes the magazine so fascinating, at least to those who have worked
there? It has always cultivated an aura of mystery, said Mr. Yagoda.
"There was no table of contents, no author bylines, no masthead," he said.
"There was this thing that would appear not made by human hands." (A
contents and bylines have been added in recent years.)
"Ninety percent of any people who consider themselves writers in the
States have a collection of New Yorker rejection letters," Mr. Yagoda
continued. "A club that won't have you as a member, how wonderful that
Outsiders imagined that the magazine was a writers' paradise of unlimited
space, time and good money. But there were endless psychodramas as Shawn
maneuvered among sensitive and ambitious egos.
"He was full of affection and attention to his writers," said Mr. Angell.
then, "you realized he was saying the same thing at the same time to others,"
and "he constantly ran down other editors."
Shawn "was difficult and capable of lying," Mr. Angell said, but also
extraordinary editor and an extraordinary man."
Today, the magazine that once published Joseph Mitchell and E. B. White
still home to what is considered some of America's best writing. Its
particular style, a mixture of "the urbane and the informal," has profoundly
influenced American letters, said Daniel Menaker, a former fiction editor and
writer at the magazine who edited the Random House anthologies.
To some extent The New Yorker has lost its identity, Mr. Yagoda said
interview. Now an article that appears in The New Yorker "could be in Vanity
Fair or Harper's," he said. It is as if former contributors to The New Yorker
are writing their books to recapture a vanished past, a paradise where Shawn
nurtured them as if they were children.
"I don't really believe that the public at large is as fascinated with
details as the participants are," Mr. Gottlieb said. "I may write about the
magazine someday, too, but I don't deceive myself that the rest of the world
is likely to be all that interested."
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