“The literary life is alive and well,” David Lynn, Kenyon Review editor, announced to the Chautauqua audience during the second day of Roger Rosenblatt’s interviews on Creative Expression. Joined by colleagues, Pamela Paul, Editor of The New York Times Book Review and Lorin Stein, Editor-in-Chief of the Paris Review, Lynn continued, “Today, writers and readers know each other, they’re in contact with each other. I think that’s a very vibrate movement, and I’m glad to be part of that.”
Stein pointed out that The Paris Review does not publish reviews but aims to discover writers through the long interview. I recall my first introduction to The Paris Review —Writers at Work, The Paris Review Interviews, the first in the series with interviews of E.M.Forster, William Faulkner, Robert Penn Warren, William Styron, Truman Capote and more. How amazed and grateful I was to read the trove of essays in the dialogue of technique.
I am most grateful to these editors for their willingness to describe their process. Paul, in particular, was articulate about her job. The Times Book Review is published independently of The New York Times news staff. Every week, cartons of newly published books arrive at her offices. She and members of her staff consider each and every book though some, very briefly. Each independent and selected reviewer has carte blanche to write her own copy and voice her own opinion, even if Paul does not agree. Once a year, she and her staff make recommendations of their top choices.
Rosenblatt and the three editors weighed in on the state of the book industry today. Paul was optimistic about the statistics she looks at, stating that book sales figures have been really strong and that independent bookstores have rebounded. “People are yearning for community and bookstores have become a place for gathering of people who are interested in literature…”
I was most grateful for the discussion on “immersion,” how a book can take us to into situations and places unique and new, into a creative and evocative story, in contrast to the digital world of compression and sound bites. I am always searching for a literary voice, a situation, to stretch beyond my own experience.
When Rosenblatt asked what influences their work, answers varied from ”anything that gives surprise and delight,” to “literature is supposed to make you a little uncomfortable.” Paul questioned the new tendency to post “trigger warnings” for individuals with high sensitivity to certain content. She felt these warnings flew in the face of authors whose work makes you a little uncomfortable with yourself.
Lynn spoke to how The Kenyon Review’s May/June issue was focused on eco-poetry with emphasis on global warming, and human beings going forward. His greatest pleasure was to “wake up and read the stuff you love.” While Paul’s was “to read young writers she had never read before,” and Stein’s was “being with talented, wonderful people. At the end, the audience was on their feet with appreciative applause.