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William Maxwell: A Literary Life Paperback – June 26, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"I think better on the typewriter than I do just talking," William Maxwell told Burkhardt in one of their many meetings together in the nine years preceding his death, at 91, in 2000. Seated on the patio of his summer home, the novelist and former New Yorker fiction editor (who worked with such literary giants as Nabokov, Salinger and "the three Johns": Cheever, O'Hara and Updike) clacked out answers to her questions on his Coronamatic while Burkhardt, an assistant professor of English at the University of Illinois, read by his side. From these mechanized Q&A sessions, as well as from interviews with Maxwell's friends, family and colleagues, Burkhardt emerges with a comprehensive picture of the author's work as dominated by the recurring themes of childhood, psychoanalysis and maternal love. Maxwell lost his mother to the Spanish Flu at age 11, a defining experience that he claimed "made a novelist out of him." Recovering the "lost Eden" of his early years became his work's "central mission," and Burkhardt uses these autobiographical elements to analyze Maxwell's writing and correspondence. Because Maxwell dedicated himself to covering the same thematic ground in multiple books, however, and because Burkhardt's method is doggedly biographical, her interpretations can grow somewhat repetitive. After all, there are only so many ways to attach the number of young mothers who die in Maxwell's fiction to the one he lost in real life. Burkhardt's account of Maxwell's 40-year tenure at The New Yorker also falls somewhat short. She offers a few intriguing tidbits, like how Harold Ross and other editors used knitting needles to pinpoint unsatisfactory details in covers and cartoons, but fans looking for further insight into the magazine's history may be disappointed. Nevertheless, though the New Yorker anecdotes are few and far between, Burkhardt's exhaustive study of the author's life will be required reading for any devoted Maxwell enthusiast. 8 pages of b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

There were two aspects to the career of Maxwell, who died in 2000. One was as a beloved fiction editor at the New Yorker, where he edited the work of many significant twentieth-century writers, including Eudora Welty and John Updike. He also was a fiction writer himself, the author of, among his six novels and many short stories, the award-winning and career-defining novel So Long, See You Tomorrow (1980). Maxwell gets his due in this combination of biography and critical study by a writer who not only copiously studied his work but also worked with him to ensure the accuracy of the biographical side of her book. Maxwell's grounding in the Midwest and the impact of his mother's early death are developed as biographical features that greatly influenced his fiction writing, and the compassionate side of his nature is certainly seen here as a major component of his ability to edit famous names for a famous magazine. Let us hope that this solid book will work as a guarantee against future neglect. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University of Illinois Press; Reprint edition (June 26, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0252075838
  • ISBN-13: 978-0252075834
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,093,863 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By js on April 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This is a lovely book. A fine combination of sympathetic biography and astute literary critique.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Melissa K. Beran on August 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
There are few biographers who know/knew their subjects as well as Barbara Burkhardt. She has been a professor of mine for fours years and I can tell you first hand she is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to Mr. Maxwell. Her interviews and friendship with Mr. Maxwell make her writing more real and personal. I can't think of a better person to ask (or read from) than Barabara about William Maxwell and his life and works!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Neaville Herndon on February 20, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book was used but in good condition. I met the author and was purchasing the book to have it signed and give as a gift. But the book previously had a signature by the author. So it was double signed. It was for my husband and he just laughed, but had it been for someone else, it would have been embarassing. It should have indicated - "signed by author" with someone else's name - but it did not.
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