Care for 20th century literature? You’ll care for this book
The blurb of my edition of Stet — Diana Athill’s riveting, funny and must-read memoir about her 50-odd years as one of London’s best-known publishers — has this quote from the Washington Times: “Athill has written a book that should please anyone who cares about 20th century literature and its creators.”
It’s true; this book lives up to its blurb and more.
Athill, who worked all her life at the firm, Andre Deutsch, calls herself an editor as opposed to a publisher (she charmingly tells us why the two are different). She edited, among others, Normal Mailer, Philip Roth, John Updike, VS Naipaul and Jean Rhys. She divides the book into two parts: the first deals with the job itself, and offers a fascinating portrait of the goings on at an independent, dashing and reputable publishing house; the second is devoted to some memorable writers she worked with.
It is a portrait of a vanished age of publishing (the second half of the 20th century), but several of Athill’s acute observations hold true. This one, for instance: “Editors must never expect thanks [from writers] (sometimes they come, but they must always be seen as a bonus). We must always remember that we are only midwives — if we want praise for progeny we must give birth to our own.
Here are some reviews of the book.
And here is a charming interview with its author.
You’d be lucky to find a copy of Stet in a brick-and-mortar store in India. But here is where you can buy the book from.
Go ahead. You won’t regret it.
(You can follow Soumya Bhattacharya on twitter @soumya1910)