Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The relationship between an editor and writer

    Robert Gottlieb, now 91, has spent most of his life publishing books. As editor-in-chief at Alfred A. Knopf and Simon & Schuster, he nurtured a gallery of important writers: Doris Lessing, Joseph Heller, Toni Morrison, and Michael Crichton, for example.
   Gottlieb also edited and published the work of Robert Caro, the 87-year-old author who created a stir in 1974 with The Power Broker, a definitive work about New York builder Robert Moses. Caro followed with a massive quartet of books about the life and career of Lyndon Johnson. 
    Directed by Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie Gottlieb, the documentary Turn Every Page examines the relationship between Caro and Gottlieb, offering biographical sketches, career summaries, and interviews in which both men discuss what has been a productive, sometimes contentious collaboration. Both are motivated by high standards.  
    Caro is nothing if not focused. He has spent much of his life producing four volumes about Lyndon Johnson: The Path to Power, Means of Ascent, Master of the Senate, and The Passage of Power.  A fifth book will appear when Caro, not one to hurry, completes a series that justifiably can be called monumental.
    Tireless and exhaustive, Caro conducts interview after interview,  pours over documents, and writes as he uncovers the theme of each  book. A masterful reporter, he takes nothing for granted.
    If you’re a stickler for details, you’ll particularly enjoy learning about the ongoing disagreement between Caro and Gottlieb concerning the use of semi-colons, not a barn-burner of a topic, but one that demonstrates each man’s commitment to the most effective use of language.
    Gottlieb serves the texts of others but isn’t shy about expressing his ego;  he credits himself with having changed the name of Heller's Catch 18 to Catch 22. Another World War II book with the number 18 in the title loomed. Gottlieb also thought 22 was funnier.
   Caro has earned the right to the exhaustive, time-consuming efforts that have defined his career and have produced books that are no strangers to best-seller lists.
    If you're interested in writing, journalism or publishing I wouldn't miss the opportunity to glimpse into the worlds of a consequential editor and writer who have produced important work of lasting value.
   I don’t think Gottlieb doubts his skill and insight as an editor. His record speaks for itself. But he'd also probably agree that finding a Robert Caro doesn't hurt, either.

No comments: