cover image Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art of Editing

Remembering Mr. Shawn's New Yorker: The Invisible Art of Editing

Ved Mehta. Overlook Press, $35 (368pp) ISBN 978-0-87951-876-9

A poignant tribute from a flawed but well-placed Boswell, Mehta's book revisits (through memories, letters and interviews) the career of William Shawn, who edited the New Yorker from 1951 to 1987. During his self-effacing stewardship, Shawn shifted the emphasis of the magazine from the satire and whimsy of his predecessor, Harold Ross, to serious in-depth reportage, all the while maintaining the elegance and integrity for which the magazine was famous--qualities generally thought to have faded from its pages since his departure. As the eighth volume in the memoir series Continents of Exile, Mehta's account suffers from a dual focus. Like the real Boswell, Mehta (who joined the New Yorker's staff in 1959 and was ""terminated"" by Tina Brown in 1994) tends to get in the way of his more interesting mentor, dropping names, telling tales and settling scores with tiresome self-importance; at times his adulation of Shawn seems to call less for a memoir than for a few hours on the analyst's couch. But, even a decade after publishing tycoon S.I. Newhouse asserted his new control of the magazine by firing Shawn and replacing him with Robert Gottlieb, Mehta's nostalgia for the ""old,"" independent New Yorker is still contagious. Indeed, once he jogs our memory, it comes almost as a shock that something as eccentric and rigorously uncommercial as Shawn's New Yorker could have existed so recently, or vanished so completely from the literary scene. In his chronicles, Mehta builds a powerful, very moving case for the punctilious, ""invisible art"" of his former boss. (May)