One-Minute Book Reviews

July 23, 2007

A Great Biography of the Editor of Fitzgerald, Hemingway and Wolfe

My head is too full of Harry Potter to post a review today, so I’ll just mention a favorite book that I hope to say more about later. A. Scott Berg won a 1979 National Book Award for Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, his definitive and eloquent biography of the great editor of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe. And both the honor and the book aced the test of time. The California-based Berg may be better known for his Pulitzer Prize-winning Lindbergh. But Max Perkins, his masterpiece, is a much better book. If you enjoy literary biographies and haven’t read this one, you’re in for a treat.

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. So Jan, does this mean you are reading the latest HP?

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — July 23, 2007 @ 11:47 am | Reply

  2. I’m going to read the novel but possibly not this week. Right now I’m recovering from the publicity onslaught, which I’ve followed closely.

    So many people are evaluating the new Harry Potter novel as a marketing phenomenon, not as book. Of course, the series is a phenomenon. But what’s the literary quality? Ron Charles’s extremely intelligent essay on July 15 in the Washington Post suggested that it might be pretty bad. I quoted a portion of his essay recently in the “Could This Weekend’s Group Grope of Harry Potter Actually Harm Children?” post.

    I’ve noticed that you never hear people quoting wonderful lines from J.K. Rowling’s novels the way you hear people quoting lines great children’s books from “Millions of Cats” to “Alice in Wonderland.” Could it be that the Harry Potter novels have no great lines to quote?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 23, 2007 @ 12:06 pm | Reply

  3. I agree that the literary quality is not that great. However, I’ve been working in libraries (school and then public) since the first HP came out (back in 1998, I believe). There’s something to be said for a series that gets kids so excited about reading. Even though it’s not great literature, I think many teachers and librarians are excited about a series that gets kids away from the TV/computer/video games and READING. And these are not your typical series books of 200 pages or less; the length alone might normally put off a lot of children.

    I borrowed a copy today and will be reading it over the next week (with a four-day weekend coming up). I’m not a huge HP fan but I’ve always read them, figuring I needed to for my line of work. I’ll also be able to discuss it with my 21-year-old son (who lives 2000+ miles away), as we have discussed all the other ones we’ve both read. He’ll be done first, of course, despite him being an online role-playing game fanatic.

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — July 23, 2007 @ 12:42 pm | Reply

  4. You’re actually one of the first people I’ve heard admit that the quality isn’t that great. So many people seem to see the literary merits of the Potter books as inseparable from their ability to get kids to read. I’m sure many parents would love to hear more from a librarian about how the writing could be stronger.

    Apart from the comments made by Ron Charles, I’ve heard that Rowling has trouble with endings — that her novels sort of trickle off on the last page, so that sometimes you can’t even figure out what the ending is — when many series novels do have terrific wrap-ups. Would you say that this is true?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 23, 2007 @ 1:03 pm | Reply

  5. Well, considering that HP has been a seven-volume series supposedly planned in advance, I guess volume 7 will show how Rowling handles a “real” ending. I haven’t re-read the other books recently (remember, I’m not a HP fanatic), so I can’t really comment on the conclusions of volumes 1-6, but that’s a very interesting question.

    One thing I have loved about HP is the names she gives her characters. If you know a little about Latin, as well as some Greek and Roman mythology, you can get some clues about her characters simply from their names. I think a teacher could do a great lesson on Greek and Latin root words with the names of characters from the Harry Potter books!

    Comment by speedytexaslibrarian — July 23, 2007 @ 2:22 pm | Reply

  6. Hey wasn’t this post about Max Perkins!

    Harry Potter? Rowlings?

    Thomas Wolfe a literary Giant…. A word generator whose
    torrent would never have splashed the literary landscape
    without the patient and thoughtful editing of Perkins.

    I don’t know why, but this seems more interesting…


    Comment by 1poet4man — July 23, 2007 @ 11:00 pm | Reply

  7. Thank you for bringing us back to the point! I agree that Wolfe might never have made the impact he did without Perkins. But, alas, Wolfe didn’t seem to see it that way and left him in the end.

    Did you know that Wolfe was so tall he wrote standing up using the top of a refrigerator as his desk? I must have gotten that from this book (which I can’t check because I don’t have the book with me right now), because I haven’t read any biographies of Wolfe, and most of what I know about his creative habits I got from this …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 24, 2007 @ 12:02 am | Reply

  8. I wonder what it’s like to edit Ernest Hemingway. I would very much like to see the actual edits.

    Comment by heehler — July 24, 2007 @ 11:17 am | Reply

  9. Tom: You mean whether the editor tried to put commas in? The Paris Review interviews have some manuscript pages with the authors’ own edits, but not their editors’.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 24, 2007 @ 11:32 am | Reply

  10. Yea right. I mean, here is a guy who once edited Henry James. Then he finds himself editing the opposite of Henry James; Hemingway. What I wouldn’t give to get a sample peek at both processes.

    Comment by heehler — July 25, 2007 @ 1:04 am | Reply

  11. I’d forgotten that he edited James. You sure?

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — July 25, 2007 @ 3:58 am | Reply

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