It’s been a rough week on writers. First there was Norman Mailer, then Ira Levin. The death of Mailer, as is probably fitting, generated an awful lot of noise. It began with tributes and obituaries and continued with the inevitable backlash. Roger Kimball wrote one of the best dissenting pieces and did it on November 10, not long after the news of Mailer’s death broke. But reminiscences and even video of the great man in action have been best of all. In the New York Times talk show host Dick Cavett reminisces about an infamous encounter on his show between Mailer, Gore Vidal and Janet Flanner. Here he is (courtesy of Kottke) introducing a clip of the show (the relevant part is about 29 minutes in). Mailer could be an idiot at times–and often a drunken one as well—but in The Naked and the Dead and The Fight he wrote two of the most significant books in my life. Whether that balances the scales is another matter.
Levin’s passing naturally did not provoke the ‘end of an era’ sensation of Mailer. Levin did not enjoy the ‘literary wunderkind’ reputation of Mailer and was described as ‘mild-mannered’ where Mailer was ‘pugilistic’. But among his seven novels are some of the best-known and, through their film adaptations, arguably the most influential American novels of the last fifty years, notably Rosemary’s Baby (1967) and The Boys From Brazil (1976). Levin worked in television and wrote plays and screenplays as well as seeing his novels adapted. The Guardian‘s obituary is thorough, but The New York Times tribute highlights Levin’s worry that his books had promoted Satanism. Even so, he said ‘I didn’t send back any of the royalty checks.’
And on the subject of royalties J.K. Rowling has been in the news for casting a spell on a fan’s attempt to make a reference book from a website. Read about this craziness here.