Friday, July 30, 2010

William Maxwell: Seersucker Insouciance

Here’s editor and author William Maxwell. In seersucker—and an unbuttoned button-down. Certainly in his dotage but until the end, very much present…and interested in people and their words.
My first reaction to the unbuttoned button-down was a bit of a Gianni Agnelli esque takeaway. You know…careless aplomb…unfinished finishing touches…watch worn on the outside cuff of a dress shirt… insouciance but not arrogance. I’ll never be in their league. My insecurities demand that I crow, preen and shout about my whateverishness. They just had it.
But then it dawned on me simultaneously that William Maxwell was anything but an Agnelli. Too gentle though, I’ll speculate, to be offended by my comparison. Maxwell probably didn’t have a business or commercial bone in his body. Agnelli’s business acumen is legendary. What they both probably had in common was an adherence to a code…each their own… regarding dress and deportment whose endgame said that neither studied it too much.
I’ve been on a New Yorker magazine tear of late and it’s been great fun. Fuelled by a reader who kindly sent me Genet, the biography of Janet Flanner. Flanner delivered to Harold Ross and the New Yorker gang, dispatches from Paris for fifty years.
But before I could begin the Flanner book I decided to reference a thing or two from the Harold Ross biography. And then I had to pull William Shawn from the shelf. And then Truman Capote popped his elfin-ass little head up again as a result of my peek in on Shawn. I’m telling you, ADD is a gift and a curse. Oh, and I was so re-captivated by the Ross bio that I read the entire thing again.
So then at five thirty this morning I picked up this little William Maxwell tribute book. I’ve read at least once , all of the aforementioned save Flanner. Same for the Maxwell tribute but I remembered dogging a few page ears and so here we are…Maxwellizing on an early Friday morning. Editors intrigue me. I don’t know how Maxwell Perkins tended to Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe…while also loving a wife and five daughters. I do know that he worked all day with his hat on and had martinis everyday at lunch over at 21. Whatever works I suppose.
Unlike Perkins though, William Maxwell was a prolific editor and writer. I’ve yet to read any of Maxwell’s stories but I will.  And he edited the biggies while in the employ of The New Yorker…Updike, Salinger, Nabokov and a guy named Cheever to name a few. I love what Eudora Welty said about Maxwell the editor… "For fiction writers, he was the headquarters."

A William Maxwell Portrait helped me see what a life of well measured and properly cadenced literary guidance nets out. Legacies are self explanatory and the acolytes, protégées and people who simply loved Maxwell are clear in their convictions.

I like what Michael Collier wrote about his Maxwell experience... “I was to learn that what one should live for more than anything else are small moments of overwhelming astonishment.”  Damn. That probably sums up Maxwell right there.

And Edward Hirsch said… “I had never met anyone, let alone an old man, who seemed so emotionally present. It ran against the grain of my experience to find someone who had not been stopped or closed up, who had not been defeated by old age.”  Emotionally present? Shit, people will be hiding from my ass if I’m still around at eighty.

And what Maxwell said about genuine interest in others…
“All pleasure is got from the rubbing-off of somebody else’s pleasure in something. From eye to eye, skin to skin. A cousin of love making.”  
Charlie Rose offers us an interesting peek at Maxwell. When you have time, take a look at this.

What I’ll leave you with though, is a dichotomy that makes me respect Maxwell all the more. Get the book and read the profound difference in the way Donna Tartt delvers homage versus Ben Cheever’s uniquely assembled gratitude.

Donna Tartt…  “Love at first sight? I can safely say that I loved him the instant I saw him. He carried himself carefully (age had made him frail) but as old as he was—well into his eighties then—he was still very handsome. His spare Midwestern elegance…”

And his paucity of words manifested in the inscription of Maxwell’s book So Long, See You Tomorrow, gifted to Tartt…

“Dear Donna,
I hope you like my farmers-
Bill”

Ben Cheever… “William Maxwell had trouble believing in God. I had trouble believing in Bill Maxwell.”    and “…I suppose you could say that I was expecting Bill to morph into my father, and there’s some truth here. I missed my father and what I missed most acutely in my father was the occasional brilliant flash of rage, which used to illuminate my world. So I was looking for lightning but to reduce my friendship with Bill to its connection with my father would be the same as to conclude that a man with an umbrella is a meteorologist.”

So I’m pleased that my five thirty gander at William Maxwell this morning was evocative. On the other hand, damn you sblr for setting me on this latest round of .... AlgonquinRoundishSmartMagazinesBygoneEraLiteraryVoyeurism.
Onward. With no idea what color my blog background should be. But realizing that if I was more confident of the content, I wouldn’t give a damn about the aesthetics. Damn, that’s me.
ADG

28 comments:

...ami... said...

I like the blue. Just my two cents'...

Since you mention Agnelli, how do you feel about Lapo? And how he's treating Agnelli's wardrobe, most of which he inherited...?

I'm a big fan-I find him, and his style, oddly compelling and attractive when he probably shouldn't be. But I'd like to know what you think.

TWJ said...

Very interesting post, in an A.D.D. sort of way. Damn, you kill me with these road trips. However, I always seem to learn something new here. I guess I am trying to flatter you in some subliminal sense.

As for the background color, Ah…let me see…um…no. And yes, I criticize without suggestion of a new color to use.

Anonymous said...

Is that desk made out of African railroad ties?

Main Line Sportsman said...

The Blue works OK....
Whenever I see a someone with unbuttoned button downs....feel compelled to approach and fasten them....of course one resists such compulsions...
How do you leave the house with those flaps flapping? Absent-minded....contrived look...we'll never know.
As for Martinis at lunch...I also wonder how anyone ever got anything done in those days...
But that was in a the era before all this artifical urgency with faxes and e-mails and scanned documents asualting us very second around the clock....so I guess you could return to your desk with a post 21 buzz and still pass it off as working.

Anonymous said...

Sprezzatura.......... Italian for "Artful Dishevelment"

Reference Milano's Lino Ieluzzi. Stephen Potter would have loved the guy.

Anonymous said...

The Maxwell interview was magical. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I'm a lover of books and the written word. Littera Scripta.

~Hilton

Anonymous said...

( The missing comment)

Sprezzatura...... Italian for "Artful Dishevelment".

Reference Milano's Lino Ieluzzo. Stephen Potter would have loved this guy.

Anonymous said...

Mi scusi..........Ieluzzi not Ieluzzo

(I didn't see the other comment posted so thought it had been lost)

DAM said...

Personally, I like the red plastic cup in the bottom left hand corner the best of all.

Michael said...

Much prefer the black background.

Anonymous said...

YAY !!!!!!! He's back in black! Now I can enjoy the weekend.

ADG said...

Michael...I have no clue what the best background should be but I know for sure that I'm over it!

DAM...it's my spit cup.

Anon....no worries.

MainLiner...I knew an old Madison Avenue ad guy who said that after 2 martini lunches they weren't allowed to accept or place phone calls.

AnonRailroadties....Probably not. It came out of a barn in Waxhaw, N.C. years ago.

TWJ....F$%&k it.

ami...yes...I think Lapo has a cool edge. Sometimes he might appear to be trying too hard but he's still a kid.

Anonymous said...

I don't know about Lapo. If he were really trying too hard he might rethink the 'do' un po'. I think it is just an Italian thing. He's molto elegante, IMHO.

...ami... said...

I could agree with that. but the overall effect is still pleasing to the eye. well, to mine anyway.. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thank God.

Death Bredon said...

The blue background is very easy on the eyes. In sharp contrast, the white on black format (pun intended) is very hard on the eyes--in fact it makes reading the text nigh on impossible.

Anonymous said...

Death Bredon? Shut up

; - }

Young Fogey said...

Oh no. I can't believe you change the look back to the absolutely hardest to read format. Please, please, please, change the background color to something light! All the people who complained about it will, in time, adjust to the new you.

The headaches I get from reading your blog will go away, too. (I would insert a zinger here, except that it might weaken the force of my argument.)

Anonymous said...

A wonderful post rendered even more delightful by the return of the black background. Simple elegance has been restored.

Mrs. G said...

Love the desk!

NCJack said...

BTW, I knew a sandlapper couldn't stand to keep a (real) Carolina Blue background

LPC said...

To all, set up a Google Reader account. Then subscribe to Maximinimus via RSS. Those of you who can't read this on black will be happy, those of you who required black will be happy. Really.

Anonymous said...

I don't know whether I'm more surprised to see a Sharpie rather than a fountain pen on your legal pad or a red plastic Solo cup rather that a handsome crystal rocks glass.

It's good to know that you're not perfect and that you slum it a little every now and then.

Pigtown-Design said...

Always fun to see interior decorating shots of the "MaxiPad". {snork}

Anonymous said...

GEEE-nius grey type - did you check it on a navy background?
Lookin' good. Keep the dark background, your pictures are much more atmospheric and moody that way - and overall a more established and authoritative impression.

An adherence to an unstudied code......a Maxwell mantra, wouldn't you say? I've heard Maxwell described as "scrupulously decent" as well.

If you get a chance to read his lecture "The Writer as Illusionist" (circa 1955) do it.......The core of the lecture is the idea that narrative writers are people who perform tricks and have everything in common with the vaudeville magician except the writer must be taken in by his own tricks - his mouth must be the first to drop in surprise and wonder.

Beautiful post, ADG/Maxminimus.
To paraphrase Updike to Maxwell...."Please go on being yourself..." or something like that.

ADG said...

AnonGEEE-nius...thanks. I haven't checked out a navy background but I will. I got so frustrated with the design stuff (technology ain't where my passions are) that I just changed it back and was done with it. And thanks re Maxwell. I'm far from done with him yet.

MegTown...just so you know smartypants, that's the MaxiOffice. (snork back atcha and I raise you a chortle and a grunt)

AnonSharpie-Solo...I slum it a lot of the time. You'd howl if you saw me right now.

LPC...THANK YOU...the voice of reason...Prunella the Practical. Thank you.

NCJack...after USC left the ACC, I'd just as soon be a Tarheel fan as anything else.

Mrs. G. ... Thanks.

Young Fogey-Death Breedon-Anonymouses etc...I love all of you. Throw my junk in Google Reader. Shut up.

JKG said...

But realizing that if I was more confident of the content, I wouldn’t give a damn about the aesthetics. Damn, that’s me.

Shit.

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