ATG Book of the Week: Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

by | Aug 19, 2013 | 0 comments

hothouse - www.simonandschuster.comTitle:  Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux
Author:
Boris Kachka

Hardcover:
ISBN, 978-1451691894, $28
(also available in Kindle edition)
Imprint: New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013

Farrar, Straus and Giroux is arguably the most influential publishing house of the modern era. Home to an unrivaled twenty-five Nobel Prize winners and generation-defining authors like T. S. Eliot, Flannery O’Connor, Susan Sontag, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Philip Roth, and Jonathan Franzen, it’s a cultural institution whose importance approaches that of The New Yorker or The New York Times. But FSG is no ivory tower—the owner’s wife called the office a “sexual sewer”—and its untold story is as tumultuous and engrossing as many of the great novels it has published.

Boris Kachka deftly reveals the era and the city that built FSG through the stories of two men: founder-owner Roger Straus, the pugnacious black sheep of his powerful German-Jewish family—with his bottomless supply of ascots, charm, and vulgarity of every stripe—and his utter opposite, the reticent, closeted editor Robert Giroux, who rose from working-class New Jersey to discover the novelists and poets who helped define American culture. Giroux became one of T. S. Eliot’s best friends, just missed out on The Catcher in the Rye, and played the placid caretaker to manic-depressive geniuses like Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Jean Stafford, and Jack Kerouac. Straus, the brilliant showman, made Susan Sontag a star, kept Edmund Wilson out of prison, and turned Isaac Bashevis Singer from a Yiddish scribbler into a Nobelist—even as he spread the gossip on which literary New York thrived.

  • “Hothouse simmers with gossipy tales of publishing . . . and [is] blessed with real-life characters who could star in any sexy novel. . . . It’s not a book just for intellectuals.”

USA Today

  • “Vivid . . . Witty . . . Immensely enjoyable . . . Kachka sets forth a strikingly unexpurgated history of FSG, impressively researched, rich in anecdotes and journalistically balanced.”

Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

  • “[A] vigorous and often diverting trot through the history of an important cultural institution . . . No one has previously anatomized a publishing house in such depth . . . Farrar, Straus & Giroux, moreover, is well worth anatomizing. It’s had a larger-than-life central character, an amusing cast of secondary characters, and a history replete with drama. Most important, it has maintained an amazingly consistent level of quality.”

Robert Gottlieb, The New Yorker

  • “Colorful history . . . Hothouse isn’t a management book; it’s a narrative of large personalities at play. Yet out of it comes a clear account of how to thrive in a tough commercial environment. . . . Kachka tells the story of the house’s ‘class-mass’ success in delicious detail.”

Paul Elie, The Wall Street Journal

 

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