Date finished: November 17th 2016
I’ve reached the point where my leisure reading and my study reading have come to overlap. I can’t decide if this is a great thing or a depressing development. Either way, whilst perusing the university library I came across Thomas Maschler’s autobiography Publisher, and randomly opened to a page where he talks about Thomas Pynchon. I’m fascinated by Pynchon so on this strength I decided to borrow the book.
Maschler was the “wunderkind” of publishing in the 1960’s and 70’s, and in his time at Jonathan Cape he worked with, and indeed made the career of, many household names, such as Roald Dahl, Salman Rushdie, John Lennon, Doris Lessing, John Fowles and countless others. His story chronicles his experiences in the publishing industry and literary circles. He and Jonathan Cape have also published many of my favourite authors, including Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan (whom I have a frustrated relationship with), Joseph Heller, and Thomas Pynchon.
Maschler knows what the public want and, as a result, dispenses with his formative years in a matter of thirty pages. I’d like to propose all autobiographies do this unless the childhood is especially important. Maschler paints a portrait of a strangely independent youth which may go some way to explaining his later success. However, the real reason anyone’s reading about Maschler is for a bit of insight into the machinations of the publishing industry, and then to get the gossip on the literati. And, fortunately, Maschler knows it, and proceeds to get on with it, dedicating a few pages to the various big names he’s worked with and anecdotes about his experiences with people such as Allen Ginsberg, Kurt Vonnegut and many more.
I have to assume Maschler commissioned a ghostwriter to pen the work for him. Presumably, the ghostwriter heard the anecdotes through a wall or had to decipher them out of riddles because, at times, seemingly random non-sequiturs are made, and anecdotes seem to suddenly end just as they’re becoming interesting. There’s a strange inconsistency to the book which leaves you wondering why he wrote some things at all, and why he didn’t write more about other things. It’s almost as though it was edited by a psychopath who just cut random words and passages out in order to make it feel nonsensical.
That said, there are some interesting insights into publishing past and present, and some of the revelations and anecdotes involving the literati are entertaining enough to keep one going through the work. Maschler will never be a celebrated writer – thank God he was a publisher.