Avid Reader: A Life

Avid Reader book coverAvid Reader: A Life
Robert Gottlieb
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (September 13, 2016), 352 pages
Kindle edition $14.99, Amazon hardcover $16.66

I have been a book person all of my life, as you likely know. I spent eight years at B. Dalton Bookseller in three states and four different stores. Six of those years I was a store manager. I was therefore very familiar with Robert Gottlieb as the respected head of the Alfred A. Knopf division at Random House. I wasted no time, then, buying this book when I read of its release.

Gottlieb describes when, as a recent college graduate, his career counselor told him that the only industry he appeared to be suitable for was publishing, and the only publishing house that might be able to cope with his personality was Simon & Schuster. Fortunately the company had a job for him.

This was when Simon & Schuster had a rather poor reputation, mostly publishing things like crossword puzzle books. As he worked his way up in the company his own reputation and that of S&S as a publishing house grew. He eventually was well-respected enough that after Random House bought the storied Alfred A. Knopf publishing firm, they turned to him to take the helm.

Gottlieb spent a number of years at Knopf, where he published many of the most distinguished and popular authors in the United States and Europe. At at time when Condé Nast owned both Random House and The New Yorker magazine, the head of Condé Nast, Si Newhouse, asked Gottlieb to take over as editor of the magazine. Gottlieb was agreeable, but after a few years Newhouse grew restless and brought in Tina Brown of Cosmopolitan fame. Gottlieb suggests, somewhat indirectly, that his settlement at The New Yorker meant that he had nothing to worry about financially.

After leaving The New Yorker Gottlieb returned to Knopf as an editor. He describes enjoying this role, not having the worries of running the whole division.

I have not given away the whole narrative here. What I have presented is simply the framework. There is a lot of detail about Gottlieb’s personal life and there are many insights into the publishing world and into the pleasure and pain of working with authors. If you enjoy that sort of thing you will love this book.


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