"My instincts in publishing are very much a gut reaction"
March 17, 2005 1:29 PM   Subscribe

In those days, he could do no wrong. In the Sixties, he was the man who published Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast; he put John Lennon's doodles into cold print, launched the careers of John Fowles and Gabriel García Márquez, looked after Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut and later, in the early 1980s, was the godfatherly mentor of Amis fils, Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie. He was equally adept at commissioning inspired non-fictions such as The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris's zoological inspection of human behaviour.
The Independent profiles Tom Maschler, publisher, founder of the Booker Prize. (via Bookslut)
posted by matteo (7 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Interestingly enough, some critics really don't like Maschler's autobiography
posted by matteo at 1:33 PM on March 17, 2005

Haven't heard of Maschler before. Neat find. I do wish the writing was a little less awful, tho:

His intense, brown eyes regarded you with amusement, while his voice soared to girlish shrieks of remonstration. He seemed to be in a chronic state of aggrieved hilarity. He was as camp as a sequinned bivouac, despite his prodigious reputation as a ladies' man.
posted by ori at 2:28 PM on March 17, 2005

From what I've heard and read he had a good idea of what would both sell and be critically appreciated. From the reviews you posted it looks like he couldn't write, but who really cares? He was a an old-style editor - he had long lunches, drank a lot and had a weird ability to pick out the next long-term best seller.
Maybe he had no real interest in his authors - so what? Most authors are deeply boring people who argue about royalties, possible movie options and why the cover of the German translation was no damm good.
As for passing on "The Satanic Verses" - a good choice I think, purely because it's the weakest novel Rushdie wrote. He wrote better before and after the fatwa.
Shallow, fun-loving human being with ability to spot well written and yet popular prose dies.

I'll raise a glass to him tonight.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 3:34 PM on March 17, 2005

Man, they're really stretching in that Independent piece to make this guy seem visionary and significant.

he was the man who published Catch-22, Portnoy's Complaint and Hemingway's A Moveable Feast

Wow. Imagine possessing the keen business sense to acquire the UK rights to such unlikely successes. The Hemingway catch is particularly impressive - not many publishers would take a risk on possibly the most celebrated literary figure of the 20th century in only the fifth decade of his career.

looked after the wayward visionaries Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut

And here their American publishers thought they'd done the lion's share of this caretaking.

Yes, indeed: ask any great author, and they'll tell you it's the money men behind the houses that acquire their subsidiary rights that really made all the difference. And if I give him due respect for the creation of the Booker, can I point out that the list of his only apparently genuine discoveries - Amis fils, McEwen, Barnes - fills more than half of my list of Top 5 Widely Lauded British Authors Whose Inability To Live Up To Their Hype Made Me Realize Why The Booker Shortlist Is Always So Top-Heavy With Post-Colonials?

And as for those envious, hairsplitting snarks in the other UK papers - well, there's another good reason why England's literary culture sometimes looks like a schoolyard pissing contest at Eton, and why so much of the exciting writing coming out of London these days is done mainly by immigrants and Scots.

/Overblown Fleet-Street-style literary pisstake

On preview: thatwhichfalls, my sense is that he wasn't an editor at all, just the chairman of a publishing house. And he's not dead, either.
posted by gompa at 3:51 PM on March 17, 2005

Crap - sorry - looked like an obituary post!

I'll agree with you on the "Amis fils, McEwen, Barnes" axis of banality. I remember reading stuff by them back in the early eighties and wondering why I was spending my Saturday job money on their books rather than anything by Milan Kundera or Flann O'Brien.
Personally I gave up on the Booker prize when J.G.Ballard lost to Anita Brookner.
As for the "exciting writing coming out of London these days is done mainly by immigrants and Scots" - it's been that way for centuries.

Anyway - sorry for misunderstanding the post.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 4:10 PM on March 17, 2005

One more thing, Maschler is responsible for Jeffrey Archer.

Though I feel I have to stick up a bit for Amis et al. Some of their early books are excellent (Rachel Papers, Cement Garden, Metroland) and I can't think of any Scots writing anything in that league at the moment.
posted by johnny novak at 2:49 AM on March 18, 2005

Amis: wonderful, jaw-dropping, truly startling paragraphs. Can't write actual novels. That said, "Dead Babies" made me laugh like a drain. A masterpiece of gratuitous cruelty and gleeful misanthropy.

Barnes. Not bad at all, but maybe a tad overrated. Doesn't deserve the lazy slagging he's been given by a couple of contributors here.

McEwan. A damned good novelist who started quietly and just got better and better. Most definitely doesn't deserve the lazy etc etc. Read "Atonement", for Christ's sake. Great novel. Read "Amsterdam". Simple, spare but tight as a gnat's arse and blackly funny. "Enduring Love": much better than the film. "The Child in Time": sad, shocking, touching, affecting... wonderful.
posted by Decani at 5:57 AM on March 18, 2005

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