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Lives and Letters

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Gottlieb has served as editor-in-chief at both Simon and Schuster and Alfred A. Knopf as well as a The New Yorker, and he was for many years a very active board member of the New York City Ballet. He knows (or knew) many of his subjects personally, and has even acted as editor for a few of them. For professional reasons one might have expected him to favor the "Letters" portion of the collection, and indeed his essay on the long friendship between legendary editor Maxwell Perkins and novelist Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is moving and deeply felt; there are fine pieces, too, on Dickens, Kipling, Thurber, and even the trash novelist Judith Krantz, with whom Gottlieb claims to identify. He is particularly interesting on Steinbeck and the question of that author's greatness or lack thereof: "The extraordinary thing about John Steinbeck," Gottlieb throws out as an opener, "is how good he can be when so much of the time he's so bad." (Steinbeck would seem to have agreed with this assessment: when asked by a reporter whether he thought he actually deserved his Nobel Prize, he answered, "Frankly, no.")

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