Avid Reader: A Life - Robert Gottlieb

Staff Pick

For more than six decades, Robert Gottlieb stood at the helm of three premier publishing institutions: Simon & Schuster, Alfred A. Knopf, and The New Yorker magazine. A book omnivore, he grew up in a family where reading took the place of dinner-table conversation: “only later did it occur to me this was not normal,” he writes in his engrossing memoir, Avid Reader (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28). Gottlieb’s love of reading segued into an illustrious career in which he edited some of the biggest names in literature, including Toni Morrison, John Le Carré, Robert Caro, and Doris Lessing. Sharing insights into his editing philosophy, he notes that “the most damaging thing an editor can do to a writer is to try to change a book into something other than what it is, rather than to try to make it a better version of what it is already.” This memoir brims with amusing insider anecdotes, such as the mini-crisis that ensued when, nearing the publication date of a book called Catch-18, by a writer named Joseph Heller, Gottlieb and his team learned that a book called Mila 18 was about to be released. This life in words is also an endearing meditation on family and close friendships forged over the years, and it’s seasoned with enough literary gossip to keep the pages turning.