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Monday, July 11, 2011

The Letters of Max Perkins and F Scott Fitzgerald

I read letters. I am a sucker for any book of literary correspondence which I suppose is a bit like reading over someones shoulder but since people don't write letters anymore it is also a dying art form if not already dead. So I have been reading an old book of the correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor Max Perkins. The legendary Scribner editor handled alot of the greats of course. Hemingway and Fitzgerald among them.

So what do you get when you read a book like this? Well you get a lot of envy because Perkins is just about as close as you will ever come to the Saintly editor. Scott needs money or advice or anything and Max accommodates him. Fitzgerald suggests books and Perkins does his best to publish them. It's almost unbelievable There is no editorial board , no sales meetings to get approval from. Perkins seems to make decisions and it just happens.

Of course the discussions of his books are fascinating. The back and forth between Scott and Max shows how a lot of his books took shape. And of course money is very central to alot of the discussions and Perkins seemed almost as much banker as editor. I am doing a horrible job summing up this book but that is because reading letters is like reading mini novels and it doesn't really fit into the world today. The real gems are found between the lines.

And yet, you can't help but feel there is a reason this type of world had to end. It is almost too idyllic in a sense and maybe too civilized. Certainly World War II obliterated the Perkins Fitzgerald world as much as his death in 1940. Still it is a pleasure to read about a time when novelists were kings and editors were Gods.

Books by William Hazelgrove