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Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978)

por A. Scott Berg

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4891949,374 (4.32)46
The talents Maxwell Perkins nurtured were known worldwide: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe among numerous others. But the man himself remained a mystery, a backstage presence who served these authors not only as editor but as critic, career manager, moneylender, psychoanalyst, confessor and friend. This outstanding biography, a winner of the National Book Award, is the first to explore the fascinating life of this editor extraordinaire in both professional and personal domains. It tells not only of Perkins' stormy marriage and secret twenty-five-year romance with Elizabeth Lemmon, but also of his intensely intimate relationships with the leading literary lights of the twentieth century.… (mais)
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Mostrando 1-5 de 19 (seguinte | mostrar todos)
An amazing biography. Excellent read for writers in general and fans of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and Wolfe in particular. A more detailed review to come. ( )
  Chris.Wolak | Oct 13, 2022 |
To realize this grew out of the author's senior thesis at college is to wonder what I've been doing with my life, but so be it. There's a bit of irony in reading such a big book about a man who strove to stay out of the limelight, preferring that the books he edited and their authors (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe, to name just a few) get the attention. He had a Puritan's work ethic and belief in the value of suffering, coupled with a belief that nothing in the world could matter as much as a well-done book. His life in interesting because of the light it sheds on many classics of twentieth-century American literature and the process by which they came about. Along the way, it offers valuable insights into the process of editing. After reading his advice to his authors, you almost feel as if you've been the recipient of one of his thoughtful, encouraging letters and feel inspired to write. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
I can see why this won the National Book Award, it is that wonderful combination of a factual rich and accurate piece of non-fiction with "fiction like" readability. It is amazing to watch as Max Perkins works with so many giants, especially the trio of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe. Now I need to add a bunch of their books to my To Be Read list! ( )
  MarkMad | Jul 14, 2021 |
[Look Homeward, Angel] by Thomas Wolfe
[Max Perkins, Editor of Genius] by A. Scott Berg

“No leaf hangs for me in the forest; I shall lift no stone upon the heels; I shall find no door in any city. There is one voyage, the first, the last, the only one.”

Reading Thomas Wolfe is to mourn anew, each and every time. Forget the recent movement to abuse his writing as indulgent and overblown. Forget the neo-literary community, perched on a corpse they declare bloated, all the while picking and tearing with sour beaks. Attacking our heroes is the newest fad, and a distasteful one. And Wolfe isn’t the only classic that has suffered at the hands of revisionary criticism. Hemingway is now all too often considered boring and over simple and stereotypically uber-masculine; Fitzgerald’s work superficial and derivative, perhaps even plagiarized from his wife.

Thankfully, A. Scott Berg, with his [Editor of Genius], saw these men through the eyes of Max Perkins, the man who discovered them and midwifed their work. As the title suggests, Perkins saw them all as geniuses, particularly Wolfe. The editor had an intimidating task in distilling Wolfe’s mammoth text. Recent critics have tried to debunk the story about the manuscript’s delivery, but Berg quotes Wolfe’s agent, Madeline Boyd, requesting a truck to pick up the full work. As Perkins read, he was enchanted by the poetic and epic book. Working closely with the author, he reorganized and whittled, often foiled by Wolfe’s ability to replace several pages of new writing for the one or two cut. In the end, the book was an epic coming of age Southern tale. While the story still sags occasionally, the pay off in the last chapter is worth the effort. Eugene is ushered through his transformed hometown by the ghost of his deceased brother, assured that his journey is the only journey in life. It is easily one of the most perfect passages ever written.

Reading Berg’s history along with Wolfe’s debut, [Look Homeward, Angel] is a revelation. Seeing a photo of Wolfe standing next to a crate, filled with loose paper reaching up to knee-height, with a caption noting it’s one of three crates containing a manuscript, give Perkins’ the credit he’s due for translating the Wolfe’s beasts. But Wolfe is revealed, too. [Look Homeward, Angel]’s hero, Eugene Gant, is Wolfe himself – introverted, bookish, out of place in every circumstance except with a pen in his hand; overshadowed by a large and eccentric Southern family but a keen observer. In fact, the book was banned from Wolfe’s hometown after it was published because people were so angry with their fictionalized treatment. Reading about Gant’s youth and transformation into a writer is echoed in Perkins’ biography.

The most affecting passages in the biography are the ones detailing Perkins and Wolfe’s relationship. With five daughters, Perkins found the son he’d always wanted in Wolfe. And Wolfe had found a supportive and loving father. W.O. Gant, the substitute in [Look Homeward, Angel] for Wolfe’s real father, is an acerbic drunk with a piercing tongue. Nothing is ever good enough for W.O., and he casts himself as the eternal victim of the world’s conspiracies. Wolfe flourished under Perkins’ encouraging, and the two were easily one of the most creative partnerships ever seen.

Hemingway and Fitzgerald are showcased in Perkins’ story, as well. Not only the pugilistic bombast and the petulant child that have been substituted for their names over the years. But the secret creative zeal they both harbored, and the fragile egos that refuted the desperate need to create. Hemingway and Fitzgerald reacted in two very different ways during these battles. At one point in Perkins’ story, Fitzgerald is confined to bed with ‘grippe,’ sick to the bone over his financial situation, criticism of his work, and the progress of his next writing project. His treatment was to write about the illness, penning an article about all his daily aches and pains. Hemingway, on the other hand, was constantly on the defensive, raging against the world. Berg recounts him stringing up a tuna he’d caught and using it as a punching bag after someone told him tuna fishing was easy.

Given the genius Perkins corralled in just these three, it’s hard to believe he also edited Ring Lardner, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Jones, and Taylor Caldwell. And the biography is a rich source for other authors to seek out: Nancy Hale, Marcia Davenport, Martha Gellhorn, Will James, Etta Shiber, and Christine Watson – many would never have been known without Perkins’ eye for talent.

Though Perkins and Wolfe were estranged toward the end of Wolfe’s life, their love and admiration for one another never faltered. Wolfe’s last writing was a note from his deathbed remembering a climb to the top of a tall building with Perkins, the power and glory of life laid out before them. Perkins believed Wolfe was lost to the world much too early – and reading these two books is a testament to that obvious truth.

Bottom Line: The epitome of literary classics.

5 bones!!!!!
All time favorites. ( )
1 vote blackdogbooks | Sep 30, 2017 |
Marking for reread as it's been nearly 15 or 20 years since I read this & the movie Genius made me blow the dust off my copy. ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
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The talents Maxwell Perkins nurtured were known worldwide: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe among numerous others. But the man himself remained a mystery, a backstage presence who served these authors not only as editor but as critic, career manager, moneylender, psychoanalyst, confessor and friend. This outstanding biography, a winner of the National Book Award, is the first to explore the fascinating life of this editor extraordinaire in both professional and personal domains. It tells not only of Perkins' stormy marriage and secret twenty-five-year romance with Elizabeth Lemmon, but also of his intensely intimate relationships with the leading literary lights of the twentieth century.

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