My mother called in January and said, "I think I have a way to get you to come home." The way was to be her +1 at the NY Review of Books 50th Anniversary event at The Town Hall. I went, I wrote, the piece runs today in the Sunday Oregonian. A clip:
In we go; up we go, to the front row balcony. There are chandeliers overhead, velvet curtains drape the proscenium. The scene, I think, is as glamorous as the literary world gets, an idea buttressed as Steadicam operators cruise the aisles. (Martin Scorsese, I read the next day in The New York Times, is making a film about the Review.) I cruise, too, watching people in their 20s to 80s shed fur hats and greatcoats, and experience the frisson of knowing many are writers, perhaps exceptional and famous writers, yet here anonymous, knowing them as we do only by their work, rarely their faces.
Silvers takes the stage and explains how the Review was born. There was a newspaper strike in New York in 1963, and Silvers, then at Harper's magazine, felt he and others could put together a good book review to fill the gap. Using as its light Elizabeth Hardwick's essay, "The Decline of Book Reviewing" (in which she cites the "unaccountable sluggishness" of Times' reviews), they worked through the night in the empty Harper's offices.
"We had three weeks and no money to show what a book review might be," says Silvers, "we" being Review co-founders Jason and Barbara Epstein, and a dream team of writers, Gore Vidal and Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag and Adrienne Rich, Norman Mailer and William Styron and two dozen others contributing pieces and reviewing the season's books, "Naked Lunch" and "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich," "The Fire Next Time" and "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour -- An Introduction," which reviewer Steven Marcus suggested might better be called, "Seymour -- A Disaster."
The whole piece is here. You cannot see online the splendid caricature of Joan Didion by David Levine, my late stepfather, a copy of which sits on my desk, and so I reproduce it below. Thanks mom xx