Monday, September 8, 2008

ALFRED A KNOPF PUBLISHERS DIED or is Sonny Mehta Really Dead?

The news arrived today that some time ago the venerable publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf died. The death notice arrived in the form of their Spring 2009 catolog which is expected to be their last though there is no real telling given the unreliability of communications these days.

Readers of course have known that the current Alfred A. Knopf has long been living on the interest from the memory of certain books this firm published over the years. While they were a very prolific firm it was sustained by a list that would include I THE SUPREME by Augusto Roa Bastos, WARRENPOINT by Denis Donoghue, TIME REMAINING by James McCourt, GEEK LOVE by Katherine Dunn, THE MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES by Robert Musil, SOME INSTRUCTIONS by Stanley Crawford, WOMEN AND MEN by Joseph McElroy and the many books of Thomas Bernhard including CORRECTION, FROST, EXTINCTION, GATHERING EVIDENCE. There was the rumour that possibly a collected stories by Thomas Bernhard might eventually be published but it seems the firm's death has put such hopes to the wall.

The evidence of the death of Alfred A. Knopf comes from a study of the catalog in which the dead and the recently dead are mingled with startling promiscuity: in the fiction division "work" by Maeve Binchy, Elie Wiesel, Jayne Anne Phillips are counterpointed with novels by an unknown editor of a once prosperous newspaper and a surgeon from Stanford University while in the poetry division only the dead are being published: Kenneth Koch, Mark Strand, Jack Gilbert and J. D. McClatchy still evidently--- through the miracle of science--- writing from beyond the grave... there are some so-called nonfiction books ripped from today's and yesterday's newspaper headlines: the battle of Vicksburg is there with just what you have long been wanting to read, a biography of John Cheever... and then anotherbiography of Cornelius Vanderbilt.. there are two novels by female graduates of Harvard University and that is a certification of genuine awfulness... and one can easily over-look a novel by a female Canadian but that is to be forgotten before it is even published as was her earlier book... such is the sad fate of Canadian literature, a literature killed by generous government subvention.

And then beyond satire is Spade & Archer, a "prequel" to The Maltese Falcon.. I kid you not, and the bitter snickering laughter must continue with the new and collected stories of Jay McInerney along with three trashy British novels by Walker, Mason and Hensher, otherwise known as The Shirt Makers of Jermyn Street, London.

I almost forgot: there is more death on display: another translation of Cavafy by the New Jersey writer Daniel Mendelsohn as if Edmund Keeley's versions didn't exist... why would anyone bother?...

The academy sadly is well represented by sure to be dreary unreadable books by Alan Wolfe who thinks that liberalism has a future and Elaine Showalter discovering--- guess what?--- women writers... and there is Jebediah Purdy writing about the meaning of freedom while teaching law at Duke where I wonder if it still unsafe to be a white lacrosse player...

It is a sad day knowing that Alfred A. Knopf Publishers has died and I take no pleasure in any of this.
Is it possible that Sonny Mehta died and a stand-in has been steering the ship?
I did hear a rumour that it is possible Mehta died in a plane crash on his way south where he was to work on a sequel to Bill Clinton's Memoir which had the provocative title, THE PRESIDENT'S BODY but that has not been confirmed though it was alluded to in a recent communication from Patrick Chamoiseau from Martinique where he had been awaiting Mehta and where Pat has been hard at work on EXXON also a sequel as it happens, to his famous the mostly unread novel, TEXACO.