Is it wrong to remember Renata Adler primarily for her bitter, public fights with Pauline Kael?
When Adler’s two brilliant works of semi-fiction—Speedboat at Pitch Dark—were re-released to great acclaim a couple of years ago, she seemed poised to go down in history as a master stylist in her own right. So I’m kind of afraid that the publication of this new collection of Adler’s nonfiction—After the Tall Timber—will set Adler’s legacy back. In all of its 528 pages, Adler’s pugnacious film criticism and her feud with Pauline Kael are clearly the most interesting parts—simply because everything else she reported on feels so… dated?
Adler brought her considerable intellect to bear on the pressing issues of her time, but the pressing issues of her time are pretty snooze-inducing, in retrospect. Robert Bork. Biafra. Jayson Blair. The Kenneth Starr report. There is plenty to say about these issues, and for the most part it has all been said, and we have all moved on. Apparently the 1970s to 1990s, when Adler wrote these pieces, were a great time to be a film critic, and an awfully dull time to extrapolate on American headline news.
Because 37 years after its original publication, Renata Adler’s ahead-of-its-time novel Speedboat has gone from cult favorite to undisputed classic. In the process, Adler is being reevaluated as one of the great curmudgeons of literary criticism.
See all the Books that Mattered in 2013.
Last week, the New York Times reported that The Great Gatsby “is dividing the nation’s booksellers with dueling paperback editions: the enigmatic blue cover of the original and the movie tie-in book that went on sale Tuesday, a brash, flashy version with Leonardo DiCaprio front and center.” The hero of the story was Kevin Cassem at New York’s McNally Jackson Books, who explained, “We’re selling the classic cover and have no intention of selling the new one.” Mr. Cassem, saying what we’ve all been thinking, added: “I think it would bring shame to anyone who was trying to read that book on the subway.”
Not surprisingly, these feelings are not shared by the people of Wal-Mart, who don’t tend to evaluate things based on subway cred, and more often think in terms of amassing “fresh green” that is “commensurate to [their] capacity for wonder.” The mega store will be selling the novel in the Leonardo DiCaprio cover and only the Leonardo DiCaprio cover, which, honestly, will be much more effective at luring people into a story that couldn’t be further from everyday low prices.
The good news in all of this is that people are talking about The Great Gatsby and thinking about good, old fashioned book covers. At this point in the year, sales of Gatsby are projected to put it among the best selling books of the year, allowing it to serve as “a literary palate cleanser to follow 2012, when the American book-buying public gorged on the Fifty Shades erotica series.”
Over the years, there have been many different covers of The Great Gatsby, some greater than others. The Times again has the scoop, and has collected images of the book from over the years and around the world.
(FYI — McNally Jackson’s Book of the Month is Renata Adler’s Speedboat, which Brian Hurley is excited to tell you all about.)
– Michael Moats