Books We Love

Books We Love:

Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg maxperkins

Nearing the end of my undergraduate career a few years ago, I attended a conversation at UCLA’s great Hammer Museum between the biographer A. Scott Berg and Mona Simpson, novelist and a professor I was studying with at the time. After the captivating talk, I found myself lining up in the gift shop, purchasing another book I couldn’t really afford and wouldn’t find time to read. Like that ominous World War II memoir, and that compelling vegetarian manifesto I had high hopes I would get around to reading, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius by A. Scott Berg sat on the shelf for the next three years.

I thought often of the event itself; in fact, it loomed large in my early postgraduate party conversation topics, because of a detail that interested me as a somewhat aimless early twenty-something at the time. I was fascinated by the fact that after Berg graduated from Princeton, he had spent the next ten years living in his parents’ house in Brentwood, working on what had been his thesis project and would become the National Book Award-winning biography Max Perkins: Editor of Genius. This fact alone almost convinced me to take an otherwise ill-advised job as a live-in Brentwood nanny after I graduated. I was in awe of Berg’s singleness of purpose and commitment to his book. I tried to imagine the looks on my own parents’ faces, in the ninth year of my living at home, as I told them, “I swear, Mom and Dad, my masterpiece is almost finished.”

After I joined Prospect Park late last year, I finally picked up Max Perkins, convinced it was the appropriate time, as I was embarking on a career in the publishing world, to learn about the life of one of the most celebrated book editors of our time. I expected simply to be entertained by the anecdotes of working with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Ernest Hemingway; instead, or, in addition, I found myself picking up practical advice about the tricky, sticky job of being an editor of books. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with any authors with the bravado, verbosity, and temper tantrums of Thomas Wolfe (yet), but I’ve definitely taken cues from Perkins’ approach to the appropriate author-editor relationship and the delicate business of creating and selling books. And while by no means does Berg glamorize the job of an editor – in fact, he makes it look pretty darn exhausting – Max Perkins: Editor of Genius has only made me surer about my career choice, and excited for the future at Prospect Park Books.
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