Tag Archives: Historical Figure Biographies

From the Editor’s Desk: Peter Gethers, President, Random House Studio and Senior Vice President, Editor at Large Penguin Random House on Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. There are several things that are most thrilling to a book editor. First and foremost is the discovery of true talent. Everything else extends from that. Next on the list is when other people throughout the company respond to that talent positively and excitedly. When strong enough, that response not only becomes electric, it becomes unstoppable. At its most exciting it becomes a tidal wave of appreciation for a book or a writer. Next, of course, is the validation that comes from a wider audience – The bookstore buyers, managers and sales people and then, finally, actual real people who make the final judgment on the book. Over the course of my lengthy career, I have brought in a lot of great talent and some major stars. That is satisfying in its own right. But it does not compare to the discovery of a writer who is fresh, unknown, who is to be revealed. I have never seen a response to an unknown talent like the one I have seen for Stephanie Danler’s Sweetbitter. It started with my read where, after only 20 pages, I realized I was not just reading a well-written novel, I was reading something special, spectacular. Claudia Herr, who became the line editor and helped shape and refine the novel with Stephanie, was the next reader and the first person to come into my office. She was, literally, trembling and said she had never been so excited after reading a submission. We went about trying to build a consensus but we did not have to try very hard. The manuscript swept through Knopf, through all the layers and every department. Never before had I gotten emails or phone calls saying things such as, “You must buy this book,” or “We have to publish this!” We met with the author and Ms. Danler was at least as impressive as her wonderful prose. Although there are obvious autobiographical elements in her first novel it was immediately clear that she had many more books in her ­ she was an author, not just someone who had written a terrific first novel. The thrill has continued every step of the way. The wild enthusiasm within the Knopf group turned into equally strong support from reviewers and bookstores and consumers. Right from the beginning, we thought that Stephanie Danler had written a novel that had a chance to become iconic, to really be that over-used cliché: “the voice of a generation.” It is starting to look as if we all might be right. What did we see in this book from the moment the manuscript was submitted? We saw an elegant and eloquent use of language; the author’s descriptions of food made us hungry; her descriptions of sensual cravings stirred us; writing about the turmoil of being young brought us all back to our youth, or for those who were still young, it was like having their own lives being thrown back at them at the speed of light. The book made us all see ourselves in different ways, no matter our age or our sex. It also made us see outside of ourselves. It made us see the narrator’s very specific world as well as the world at large in new and startling ways. This is what talent does. This is what Sweetbitter is about to do to readers all over the world. Learn more about the book below!

From the Editor’s Desk: Jake Morrissey, Executive Editor, on Three-Martini Lunch by Suzanne Rindell

Editors get very passionate about books they work on – the Editor’s Desk series is his or her place to write in-depth about what makes a certain title special. Get the real inside-scoop on how books are shaped by the people who know them best. The best present an author can give an editor is the gift of surprise. Editors spend their days reading a lot of manuscripts that don’t tell them anything new. So reading a story about a world you thought you understood framed in an unexpected way that prompts you to think differently about it, that’s hitting the publishing jackpot. Which is what I did when Three-Martini Lunch came across my desk. In this terrific novel, Suzanne Rindell delves into a world I knew something about – book publishing – but sets her story in the late 1950s, which was when big changes were about to take place. I thought I had a decent grasp of the era. I’m familiar with two other iconic New York stories from around that time: Rona Jaffe’s classic novel (and eventual movie) The Best of Everything and the television show Mad Men. In both of those, New York City is portrayed as one of the places to be in the mid-20th century. If you know anything about either The Best of Everything or Mad Men – or even Alfred Hitchcock’s 1959 movie North by Northwest – you see a New York that’s sleeker, cleaner, less crowded than it is today. And the roles of men and women were as clearly defined then as their ambitions: Success for men meant career and advancement; success for women marriage and family. In Three-Martini Lunch, Suzanne Rindell peers beyond that mid-century mindset and explores the lives and worlds of Miles, Cliff and Eden, three young people struggling to gain a toehold in New York and hoping that publishing is the way to do that. The lives they lead are a far cry from the expense-account lunches and pristine suburban enclaves of the publishing elite. These young people are drawn to Greenwich Village and its emerging beatnik culture, with its dark and smoke-filled bars, jazz clubs, and poetry readings. And they struggle to stretch their meager bank balances by living in cramped, ramshackle apartments and having just enough money for food and beer but not always both. Suzanne gives her characters fascinating opportunities to pursue their individual ambitions and indulge their temptations. Even more compelling, she shows readers how the choices they make to achieve their goals changes them. I’m not giving anything away when I say that what you think of Miles, Cliff, and Eden at the beginning of Three-Martini Lunch will not be what you think of them at the end. As I followed the characters’ journeys through successive drafts of the novel, I found myself reassessing my own ideas about what was possible in publishing, in New York, and in America during that time. It was an era on the cusp of upheaval and turmoil, and it’s that change that Suzanne Rindell explores so effectively – and so surprisingly – in Three-Martini Lunch. Which is one of the highest compliments I can pay. Learn more about Three-Martini Lunch below!