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In Search of Willie Morris: The Mercurial Life of a Legendary Writer and Editor Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 6, 2006

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, March 6, 2006
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

To read this loving, loquacious, warts-and-all tribute to the famed Harper's editor and author (My Dog Skip) who died in 1999 is to be a fly on the wall at a high-spirited wake attended by literati like Norman Mailer and David Halberstam. The prolific King (The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas), a friend of almost 40 years who wrote for Morris at Harper's, reconciles the brooding loner with the extroverted golden boy who at 32 revitalized America's oldest magazine. Morris's vast ambition and self-destructive alcoholism, according to King, can be traced to his overbearing, socially insecure smalltown Mississippi mother, who was a secret drinker. Most noteworthy is the description of Morris's colossal fall from grace and rash resignation from Harper's in 1971, where he was blamed for diminished profits. Other standouts are accounts of Morris's close friendship with the dying James Jones, celebrated author of From Here to Eternity, and his tumultuous affair with socialite Barbara Howar, who publicly accused Morris of ripping off her life in his poorly received novel The Last of the Southern Girls. This insider's memoir will be savored by Morris's friends and fans, but won't make him essential to a new generation of readers. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar. 1)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

At the relatively young age of 32, Morris, Mississippi-born editor of the Texas Observer, was named editor in chief of Harper's magazine. His tenure saw a modernization of that venerable periodical ("sweep the decks clean both fore and aft"), and he brought in many writers new to the magazine, including the author of this personal biography of Morris. But Morris' time at Harper's was rocky and didn't end well. From an early age, Morris demonstrated complexity, moodiness, charm, a tendency toward obfuscation (note the title of this book), an inability to confront when necessary, and a reliance on alcohol. Obviously, a good editor does not necessarily make good manager material. Nonetheless, from King's admiring but not whitewashing biography emerges a figure who, as a novelist and a writing teacher as well as an editor, left an indelible impression. Morris died in 1999, at age 64. That his accomplishments should not be forgotten is both the point and the effect of King's engaging account. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 353 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs (March 6, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 064197101X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0641971013
  • ASIN: B000MKYKZY
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,625,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Richard Houston on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Willie Morris was many things, but how he ended up said less about him and more about the culture from which he sprung. By that I mean the South can take a heavy toll on its sentient sons and daughters. Larry L. King provides us with Willie's story in fine fashion but does miss that ineluctable truth- to use a favorite word of Morris'. Now let me say a thing or two about this Mississippian whose work I have read in full.

I would like to defend Willie Morris against two types of readers. There is the one kind who sees him as a defender of the South and another who remarks only upon his descent from the literary heights. He did do both, but that was only part of his odyssey.

Morris wrote North Toward Home, perhaps the finest autobiography produced by the last of the southern gentleman. The book holds no punches and reflects unflinchingly on what it means to be both southern and American. It should be required reading for everyone here in these United States. We might be a better country for it, and you cannot say that for many books.

After that work, Willie didn't come close in his writing efforts. However, North Toward Home endures and will endure. Most big time editors cannot say that, and I am struck by how the famous folks who surpassed him- Halberstam, for example- have never written anything on the level of North Toward Home. The Best and the Brightest is a fine book, but it is a far remove from literature. North Toward Home reminds me of C. Vann Woodward's comment, "all historians are failed novelists." A last gentleman as well, Woodward could write those words from the marrow of his bones. Our present age is too literal for that to still ring true, but it does in Morris's case, even if it be autobiography, not history per se.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Glenn Buchan on June 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I would like to thank Larry King for introducing me to my former brother-in-law, Willie Morris. (If that sounds a little bizarre at first blush, it will seem less so to those who read Larry King's book.) I always liked Willie and respected him for his achievements, but I never had any illusions that I really knew him. While I was aware of most of the "facts" -- albeit after they had passed through some dubious filters -- that was clearly not enough to understand Willie Morris. Larry King supplies many of the missing pieces, and he does so with frequently lyrical prose, wit, and keen insight. Those who want to know about Willie Morris and his times should read this book and "North Toward Home," sparing themselves the subsequent "dueling autobigraphies" of Willie and Celia Morris.

Larry King accurately captures the famous Willie Morris charm. I learned about it first hand in one of our rare private moments. Willie told me that he had never had a brother and was looking forward to the experience. Although I was aware at the time that this probably wouldn't really work out, I was quite taken by this gesture to the "kid brother." After all, I was certain that however our relationship evolved, it HAD to be an improvement over having an older sister. Meanwhile, I was already impressed that he had been a baseball player and that my parents clearly didn't really approve of their daughter's choice of husbands. Thus, his "charm offensive" certainly worked on me and apparently on many others as well.

King also explores Willie's dark side at some length, but does so sympathetically. At the minor end of that scale, King notes Willie's propensity for isolating himself from the outside world, ignoring letters, messages, or other forms of contact.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Southern Reader on May 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
To readers in Mississippi and throughout the South, Willie like Elvis doesn't need a last name.

I first learned of and became a fan of Willie Morris when in the 70's I read his mid life memoir of sorts, North Towards Home. It was one of those books I never forgot. I was less impressed with Morris'later works, especially New York Days.

( Boy talk about industrial strength name dropping. But I digress. )

In this book, Morris' long time friend Larry King provides a lot of info about Morris, his carrer, his friends and enemies, his ups and downs, his affairs, etc. While it is an informative and enjoyable read, it is kind of streange in that the author in many instances seems to abandon his "search" for Willie to indulge in a search for himself since he was so close to Morris. That may be a not unacceptable price for the reader to pay to get the huge number of intimate insights into the life of someone who was nothing if not over the top interesting.

As with any such book, there are places where detail gets out of control and scanning is in order, but they are minimal.

Willie Morris, warts and all, will always be remembered fondly by Mississippians as someone who never lost his love for the state ( and its considerable number of "warts" ).

You might have to be a Mississippian to really enjoy the book, but then again you never can tell. Definitely worth a spin.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By BookBriefblog on December 25, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Larry L. King's tribute to his pal and editor, Willie Morris, far from being hagiographic, is replete with the bumps and bruises of Morris's life. Unlike Morris's own accounts found in North Toward Home and New York Days, King explores the shadowy side of the famed editor's life and details the toll exacted by whiskey and the temperamental personality that Morris could never quite tame. While not a glowing account of the writer's life, this memoir preserves the romantic tale that Morris had already spun in his own works, but completes the picture by expanding upon aspects that Morris only hinted at, such as his marital estrangement, hard financial times, and the refusal to engage in diplomacy to save his dream job as the editor of Harper's magazine after only four years at its helm.

King doesn't include himself in Morris's circle of closest friends, reserving that space for James Jones, William Styron and a few others. Nevertheless, he was clearly a confidant over a space of thirty or so years, and seems to know his friend as well as anyone. He has drawn extensively upon contributions by Morris's first wife, Celia, his son David Rae, many friends, and the woman who is widely credited as saving Morris's life, his wife of the last ten years of his life, JoAnne Prichard. The result is a well-narrated story that any of Morris's fans will revel in, being the first book that might be viewed as telling "the rest of the story".

Insights include the problematic relationship between Morris and his mother, the doomed-from-the-start marriage to Celia, and the difficulty Morris experienced in getting on with life after his separation from Harper's. In spite of these issues, the overall tone of the book is one of admiration and true friendship.
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