God bless this website, www.pustak.co.in. I discovered it four days ago and since then have already ordered four books:
1. Henry Miller on Writing
2. A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin and Henry Miller, 1932-1953
3. Here But Not Here: My Life with William Shawn and The New Yorker, by Lillian Ross
4. Portrait of Hemingway, by Lillian Ross
Fortunately or unfortunately, ordering books on this site is so easy that I will now have to keep my credit card out of sight. What's more, the books are priced for the Indian pocket, which means it is as good as picking them up at Landmark, and yet you get books that are never likely to adorn the racks of an Indian bookshop. For books that should not have cost me Rs 600-700 at the local bookshop, I've paid up to Rs 1500-2000 while ordering them from Amazon. That's because Amazon charges you the original price printed on the back cover which is actually meant for the Western market (we Indians pay the price painted on the small sticker pasted by the local distributor), and also a hefty shipping fee.
Anyway, I'll now have to wait and see how soon the books arrive. It's been ages that I read a book cover to cover, and I can't wait to lay my hands on these. These are so my kind of books. Barring book no. 1, which was an impulsive purchase and which I suspect would be a compilation of Henry Miller's views on writing that are sprinkled across his books (all of which I have), I am really looking forward to the remaining three. God, please make time fly faster.
Ok, now coming to the point. A few years ago, I ordered a book from Amazon, Mr Shawn's New Yorker -- The Invisible Art of Editing, by Ved Mehta. It cost me a fortune, but who cares -- Ved Mehta is a writer I would like to imitate, and what better book than the one that describes his long innings at New Yorker, that too under the wings of Mr William Shawn. For the uninitiated, New Yorker is a magazine that every wordsmith should read, or at least be seen reading, at least the online edition. Now that sounds cheeky. Ok, let me put it this way: if you are a writer and if New Yorker chooses to publish your piece, you've earned the ticket to nirvana.
Mr Shawn was at the helm of same New Yorker for decades and, in the process, also the mentor of my favourite writer, Ved Mehta. I finished the rather voluminous book in a matter of days -- three days maybe. If you go by Mehta's book, Mr Shawn shines through as the perfect man there can ever be -- perfect editor, perfect husband, perfect father, perfect mentor and so on. There is so much perfection in the book that you begin to wonder: is Mr Shawn a man or an angel?
Somehow, I found it very difficult to swallow Mr Shawn's image in the book as Mr Perfect. A perfect man, in my eyes, is fictitious: his real place is in heaven, not on this earth. It's the imperfections that actually make a man and his existence worthwhile on this planet. And I kept wondering: how can Mr Shawn, the legendary editor of a magazine like New Yorker, be such a perfect human being?
The truth came tumbling out today, much to my gratification, as I placed the order for Lillian Ross' books. Ross is synonymous with New Yorker because of the pieces she has written for the magazine over the decades, and in the book In Here But Not Here, she tells the story of the life she shared for forty years with William Shawn, the legendary editor of the New Yorker.
Excerpts from the blurb that made me order the book:
"An enduring love between two people, however startling or unconventional, feels unalterable, predestined, compelling, and intrinsically normal to the couple immersed in it," Ross says, "so I would have to say that I had an intrinsically normal life for over four decades with William Shawn. I have a lasting sense of the normalcy of it all. It was a normalcy that Bill Shawn was able to create for himself and for me against all normal odds."
William Shawn was married, yet he and Ross created a home together a dozen blocks south of the Shawns' apartment, raised a child, and lived discreetly. Their lives intertwined from the 1950's until Shawn's death, in 1992. Ross describes how they met and the intense connection between them; how Shawn worked with the best writers of the period; how, to escape their developing liaison, Ross moved to Hollywood-only to return to New York and their relationship. The book is a gem, an exquisitely told real-life story more potent than fiction.
I am now waiting for the book to read the juicy details. But my views stand vindicated: no man, or woman, can ever be perfect. In order to create, you need to be imperfect; if you are perfect, you are merely following the rules that have already been set and therefore impotent. After reading Mehta's account of Mr Shawn's life, I had begun to worship the legendary editor as well as feel sorry for him. But after reading the blurb of Ross' book on the website, I can now see myself putting my arm around Mr Shawn's ghost and telling him, "Mate, we are on the same boat. But mind teaching me some editing?"