Tuesday, March 16, 2010


To recommend or not to recommend...

...that is the question. This last week I've been reading, among other things, Indecent Pleasures: The life and colorful times of WILLIAM TARG (Macmillan 1975). Bookman Extraordinaire. Finished it yesterday. What to say about a book which frequently touches upon, rather too intimately, topics such as proctology and porn, while simultaneously providing some of the most fascinating reminiscences ever written about the book business. Targ did it all, from teenage office boy at Macmillan Chicago to bookshop owner to letterpress printer and fine press publisher to editor at World to editor in chief at Putnam to bon vivant husband of glam literary agent Roslyn Targ. He lived to be 92, and what a life it was!

His rambling memoir gossips about his dealings with everyone you can name in the book world circa 1930 through the 70s. I mean everyone: publishers, authors, editors, agents, typographers, booksellers, reviewers, salespeople, collectors. Many familiar to me - I loved the small sections on Ben Abramson, Bruce Rogers, Christopher Morley, Bennett Cerf, Lawrence Clark Powell, Frances Steloff, Edward Gorey. Also blockbusters such as Mario Puzo (Targ ushered The Godfather into print). And so many completely unfamiliar to me - but no longer, thanks to Targ.

While at World, he published the classic biography Rosenbach, and Pi (the lovely Bruce Rogers miscellany), and the facsimile reprint of the Kelmscott Chaucer. For those three things alone, I love him forever. But also for descriptions such as this, from his memoir:

"A bleak and cold Saturday morning in February 1973 in Paris. Sitting in the lobby of the Hotel Montalembert, I was awaiting the arrival of the Most Important Living Writer in the World. (My characterization.) The prospect was dizzying, almost beyond my endurance." (p.113)

He was waiting to meet Samuel Beckett.

Another bit of fine writing, describing a visit to Oxford University Press:

"In comparatively freezing temperatures I saw men at work, printing the Bible. The famous Oxford India paper was floating out of the press' rollers, and holding one of the sheets in both my arms I marvelled at the beautiful wet, black ink impressed like a lover's kiss on the snowy paper, so featherlight." (p.398)

Talk about book-love! Passages like those kept me reading through the sprawl and rant of his wildly opinionated soundings-off on all topics imaginable: feminism, race, politics, food, religion, cosmology, carnality. And books course through it all like an inundating river. It sounds like he read just about as much as is humanly possible for one person to read in a lifetime. Early on he says:

"I've never really regretted being a high school dropout. The rigors and regimentation of school interfered with my indiscriminate reading..." (p.24)

When we quiet introverts read about someone like this - one of the great striders through life - rife with such worldly and lushly hedonistic experiences - it is not without a pang of envy. So naturally, in the spirit of encouragement, he provides us with the perfect bit of advice on that very subject:

"Envy leads to nothing. What matters is to make a decision, decide what you want, then try your damnedest to let it happen." (p.329)

Much of this memoir is in fact advice, some of the bookish kind - how to acquire manuscripts, how to be an editor, how to deal with authors you are editing, how to navigate the book world - some not, but all fascinating, albeit with more than a touch of bombast. He closes the book with a few more pieces of general advice, to those seeking to live fully. One I repeat here:

"Try not to miss anything worth experiencing." (p.412, italics his)

The other, on the last page (p.413), is even better, but contains the classic cuss word I can't bring myself to repeat here. (Targ would not approve of that, but as I've said before, this is a family show.) Like the rest of the book, it's worth reading. So go find a copy yourself. I'd recommend it.

Thanks Sarah - even on your bad days, somehow you cheer me up on mine. Kathleen
The secret, Kathleen - everyone has bad days, and we're all in this together! Take heart!

Many thanks for your kind words...
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?