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Stet: An Editor's Life Hardcover – April 27, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

For nearly 50 years, Athill edited some of the best minds of the postwar generation, including Molly Keane, Jack Kerouac, Norman Mailer, Brian Moore, V.S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, Mordecai Richler, Philip Roth, Gitta Sereny and John Updike. A founding director of the now-defunct London publishing house Andre Deutsch Ltd., Athill "intervened" with legendary taste and self-restraint, earning her the loyalty, and sometimes the friendship, of her frequently tetchy, fragile authors ("Writers don't encounter really attentive readers as often as you might expect, and find them balm to their twitchy nerves when they do; which gives their editors a good start with them"). Athill, now an exuberant 83, looks back on her half-century in the business, beginning with her wartime fling with Hungarian ex-pat Andre Deutsch. The affair was brief, but the relationship flourished, as the two founded first Allan Wingate (which "pounced" to publish The Naked and the Dead) and then, in 1952, the house that bore both Deutsch's name and the stamp of his ego. Dealing with his temper and self-indulgence prepared Athill for playing "nanny" to a series of difficult writers, chief among them the "ugly drunk" Rhys; Morris Chester, an all-but-forgotten surrealist novelist plagued by "voices"; and Naipaul, whom Athill categorizes as the petulant and depressive. Cheerfully self-effacing as editor and friend, Athill offers few details of her personal life. But on the subject of her workplace and the "Interesting People" she met there, she is unfailingly candid, generous, witty and astute, an eyewitness with a famously discerning eye. Agent, Angela Rose, Granta Books, London. (Mar.) Forecast: Publishing insiders and the literarily curious will find Athill's portraits of leading contemporary authors irresistible. That won't translate into major sales, but it does offer an opportunity to enterprising booksellers, who may find happy results if they display this title along with Jason Epstein's forthcoming Book Business.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

The venerable Athill (Make Believe: A True Story), now 83, has written a candid, chatty account of her years at Andre Deutsch, Ltd., one of London's premier independent publishing houses. An astute editor with an unfailing eye for quality, Athill helped launch the careers of Norman Mailer, V.S. Naipaul, John Updike, and many other literary giants. Although she never earned more than 15,000 (currently around $21,000) per year and was forced to resign herself to the company's male chauvinistic workplace attitudes, Athill loved her job. Central to her story is her complex relationship with employer and onetime love, Andre Deutsch. This canny entrepreneur often infuriated Athill with his autocratic managerial style, causing her to label him a "mean old bastard." Nonetheless, she remained in his employ for 40 years (until the firm was sold in 1985) and never ceased to be his loyal and affectionate supporter. Recommended for most libraries.DEllen Sullivan, Ferguson Lib., Stamford, CT
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (April 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802116833
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802116833
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,039,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Born in 1917 and educated at Oxford University, DIANA ATHILL has written several memoirs, including "Instead of a Letter," "After a Funeral," "Somewhere Towards the End," and the New York Times Notable Book "Stet," about her fifty-year career in publishing. She lives in London and was recently appointed an Officer of the British Empire.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A reader on March 16, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Writing at a very young 83, Diana Athill says of her memoir, Stet, "Why am I going to write it? Not because I want to provide a history of British publishing in the second half of the twentieth century, but because I shall not be alive for much longer, and when I am gone all the experiences stored in my head will be gone too - they will be deleted with one swipe of the great eraser, and something in me squeaks 'Oh no - let at least some of it be rescued!' It seems to be an instinctive twitch rather than a rational intention, but no less compelling for that. By a long-established printer's convention, a copy editor wanting to rescue a deletion puts a row of dots under it and writes 'Stet' (let it stand) in the margin. This book is an attempt to 'Stet' some part of my experience in its original form...."
And if it hadn't been for that "instinct," some of the best published works of our time might never have seen the light of day. Athill spent 50 years in publishing, most of them at London's Andre Deutsch Limited, working with the likes of Jean Rhys, Norman Mailer, George Orwell, V.S. Naipaul, Jack Kerouac and Peggy Guggenheim.
She has some great stories; among them, the plight Orwell faced in seeking a publisher for Animal Farm, and Mailer in the same situation due to the excessive use of profanity in his manuscript of The Naked and the Dead.
And she's funny, too. Of a co-worker, she explains, "Nick edited our nonfiction - not all of it, and not fast. He was such a stickler for correctness that he often had to be mopped-up after, when his treatment of someone's prose had been over-pedantic, or when his shock at a split infinitive had diverted his attention from some error of fact.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 4, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Diana Athill,in this lovely book,exhibits the qualities that surely got her through a 50-year editing career. She is wise, honest, sincere, and most importantly, sane. I read every word with relish. She never attempts to outshine the authors she writes about with such discretion. When she retires, her few words of happiness and relief after a long career are more meaningful than those who go on for pages. When she tells a writer the things that make her happy, one is happy with her, and sad for the writer so possessed with himself that he can't see her simple formula for living. Diana Athill is someone I'd like to have tea with or stroll in the park. When you can introduce yourself to a perfect stranger through the pages of a book, you are a very good writer. Her editing skills must have been superb. Read this book with tea.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael Meanwell on November 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
Anyone who has ever worked in newspapers or publishing will be familiar with `stet', an age-old editor's term for `let it stand', meaning disregard any and all changes.
This is an apt title for a memoir from one of London's best known and highly regarded editors, Dianna Athill, who spent 50 years massaging the words and assisting in the careers of many literary powerhouses, including V.S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys and Mordecai Richler as well as America's Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Kenneth Galbraith.
These feats are worth trumpeting but Athill, now in her 80s, chronicles her working life in an alluring, understated fashion: "All this book is, is the story of an old ex-editor who imagines that she will feel a little less dead if a few people read it."
`Stet: an editor's life' does a lot more than that. It gives writers and readers a fresh insight into the challenges of publishing as well as the trade's peaks and troughs throughout the latter half of the 20th century, before the conglomerates dominated.
Athill founded with Andre Deutsch a publishing house in the early 1950s which bore his name. Despite its small size and meagre means, the house and Athill's reputation gained a great deal of attention in England, not only for the calibre of writers they attracted, but their publishing approach. One of the most controversial incidents occurred early on when the publishing house was presented with an injunction against publishing Norman Mailer's first book, `The Naked and the Dead' because of its profane language.
Athill covers this and many other anecdotes about writers and the writing life in a rich, honest manner.
`Stet' will interest writers as well as avid readers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By MFS on August 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Reading Stet is like taking a seminar in the art and craft of editing and then being invited to tea with the professor afterward. While reading it, I remembered that the relationships most responsible for shaping my professional life were those I enjoyed with professors who made themselves available outside of the classroom or office. I was particularly lucky over the course of college and graduate school to enjoy the company of three wise, interesting, experienced scholars who had spent what amounted to a whole lifetime in the "real world" before beginning their academic careers. That Athill's finely crafted memoir reminded me of my debt to Dr. A-, Mr. R-, and Mrs. S- is the highest recommendation I can give.
Consider this gem:
"[A]n editor must never expect thanks (sometimes they come, but them must always be seen as a bonus). We must always remember that we are only midwives - if we want praise for progeny we must give birth to our own."
Or this (she is writing about the shrinking population of critical readers):
"Of course a lot of them still read; but progressively a smaller lot, and fewer and fewer can be bothered to dig into a book that offers any resistance. Although these people may seem stupid to us, they are no stupider than we are: they just enjoy different things."
Whether you edit church bulletin or your city's daily, whether you answer phones at a small press in the hopes of moving up or you cull gems from the slush pile, don't miss Athill's attempt to prevent her experience from being erased with her passing.
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