There’s a few lines on the back cover blurbs that say, “FSG is no ivory tower- the owner’s wife called the office a ‘sexual sewer’- and its untold story is as tumultuous and engrossing as many of the great novels it has published.” This is talking about the American publisher of T.S. Eliot, and other literary greats including Flannery O’Connor, Joan Didion, Philip Wroth, and Jonathan Franzen. I like books, I like literary history, and I like bibliography, therefore I should have liked this. And did I?
My conclusion is more amazement that it is apparently very possible to something that does fit the back cover blurb and make it so boring that it’s only possible to read a page or two without getting so bored that I had to put the book down for a while. As a result it took me a year to actually finish this thing, and even then, I scanned and kinda-but-not-really read the last hundred pages or so. A publishing house like Farrar, Strauss & Giroux which had the kind of clientele that it did, and remained independent as long as it did, with the personalities that worked there, should have been fascinating. There are plenty of office affairs, and intrigues, and politics. It should have been interesting, and for a little while it was. Then it went to Dullsville, and stayed there. This might actually be the first 1-star review I’ve given, but wow, does this thing deserve it.
Basically, there are two parts. First, you learn about the founding and founders of the publishing firm. This is the interesting part. I suspect it’s because this segment provides more detail about the people, personalities, and situations, and it’s all newish information at this point. Then begins the pattern that leads to the most boring thing I’ve read in a very, very long time: editor got (now) famous person to sell them something, it was risky, corporate moment, suggestion about employee personal life. Mix, match, repeat.
The cover has a little label telling you that this book was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. I’ve never heard of that award so I have no idea how prestigious it might be, but just because a book has an interesting premise and likely did take a lot of research to put together does not an award winner automatically make. I also now must question the opinions of the critics at The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books, and the Wall Street Journal, who, along with Entertainment Weekly, apparently liked the book (according to some brief blurbs on the front cover).