Friday, February 08, 2013
Happy 50th Birthday, New York Review of Books
From the story...
It is, of course, a singularity, the unique product of a very particular moment in American literary culture and of a small group of skilled, visionary and very wired editors. The tale has often been told of how the publisher Jason Epstein, his wife, the editor Barbara Epstein, the critic Elizabeth Hardwick and her husband, Robert Lowell, convened in an apartment on West 67thStreet in the midst of an extended newspaper strike in New York, then in its second vexing week. The absence of the New York Times and its book review constituted a grievous problem for publishers, who felt they had nowhere to advertise their books or get them effectively reviewed; the very existence of the book review constituted a grievous problem for those four people, who viewed it with disdain. In his memoir “Book Business,” Epstein says, “Its reviews were ill-informed, bland, occasionally spiteful, usually slapdash.” Hardwick had recently written a brutal takedown in Harper’s, decrying “the lack of literary tone itself” and dismissing it as “a provincial journal.” So they seized the day: Lowell borrowed $4,000 to float the enterprise, and the brilliant young Harper’s editor Robert Silvers was hired on for what very well could have been a one-off job, if the new review could not have been made financially self-sustaining. The whole thing had the air of an Andy Hardy let’s-put-on-a-show exercise, except the cast of this movie all went to Columbia, Kenyon and the University of Chicago and came equipped with killer rolodexes and deadly serious intent. As the “To the Reader” note on page two puts it, “The hope of the editors is to suggest, however imperfectly, some of the qualities which a responsible literary journal should have and to discover whether there is, in America, not only the need for such a review, but the demand for one.”