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Motorman Stuff

Motorman was published by Knopf in 1972, yet the 2008 reprint from 3rd Bed/Calimari erroneously pitches it as a Lish book. This is wrong. Lish worked at Knopf from 1977 to 1994; in 1972 he was at Esquire.

The same has been suggested  about Stanley Crawford’s Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine, also published by Knopf in 1972. There is an interview with Crawford where he sets the record straight, that Lish did not edit that book (but he did work on Some Instructions) and that Knopf ed-in-chief Robert Gottleib did.

Gottlieb also acquired Motorman, and Steve Katz’ cult classic postmodern SF novel, Saw.

In the late 60s and early 70s, experimental “hip” fiction was popular and selling in large numbers — Richard Brautigan, Kurt Vonnegut, Donald Bathleme, so commercial New York publishers started to acquire this kind of writing usually relegated to small presses.  Robert Gottleib had these three books (and maybe more) published hardback with no dust jackets, like textbooks…later to find that the glue in the binding was bad…

Gottlieb sent these books to Lish  for possible excerpting in Esquire. He ran an excerpt for Motorman but Lish’s bosses idid not okay Crawford, as much as Lish loved Crawford’s style. (In 1990, we had mentioned Saw to Lish and he said, “I remember that book!”)  So, Lish did some pen marks on the excerpt, sure, but he did not acquire and work on the book as a whole.

A lot of people assume that if a Lish-connected writer was published by Knopf, Lish edited their books. Lish did not edit, other than in  Esquire, Cynthia Ozick and Don DeLillo — in fact, when we mentioned this to Frank Lentrecchia, the DeLillo scholar, he retorted, “Gordon had NOTHING to do with any DeLillo book!!!”

…other than being DeLillo’s good buddy, having ran an excerpt of Players in Esquire, and a couple of other stories and articles.

Gottlieb and Lish butted heads often — in Lish’s archives are many internal memos of Lish going up to bat for books he wanted to buy (Christopher Coe’s I Look Divine, Diane Williams’ first collection) and Gottlieb saying no, that for whatever reasons these books would lose money, etc., or that Gottlieb did not like the writer…in fact, Gottlieb was not keen on Raymond Carver and didn’t care for the bleak depressing tone of Carver, but since Carver’s first book had done well, he knew the second would also do well and make Knopf money…which it made a shitload of, creating an artifact in American Literature and Publishing.

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2 responses »

  1. I like the topics you’re covering…

    Speaking of post-modernists, just a note to let you know about a book blog I’ve started with a different twist: “Writing Kurt Vonnegut.” Every Saturday, I post another excerpt from my notebook as Vonnegut’s biographer— profiles of the people I met, the difficulties encountered, and the surprises, such as finding 1,500 letters he thought he had lost forever. It’s a blog written in episodes about being a literary detective.

    Perhaps you’d like to give it a look at http://www.writingkurtvonnegut.com

    All the best,

    Charles J. Shields
    And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt, November 2011)

    Reply
    • Very interesting, thanks for the link.We love Vonnegut over here, and an odd synchron, we were just talking to someone an hour ago about how much Vonnegut owed Knox Buger for his career.

      There seems to be a flurry of Vonnegut bios lately — Univ of Illinois Press just came out with one; it was meant to be published alongside Michael Hemmingson’s bio of Raymond Carver, but things happened, so now Hemmingson’s bio will be published by McFarland and Co.

      Every major writer needs several bios with different perspectives — look at all the Hemingway bios and “I was there” memoirs by ex-wives, siblings, friends, etc.

      Reply

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