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Topic: Nathaniel Rich on Being Young and Working at Old Publications

Nathaniel Rich: I wouldn’t describe myself that way, but I would say working at The New York Review of Books was a lot of fun because I was with other- you know, there are four assistants for the editor and I was one of them, and it was a really exciting place to be. I learned a lot. I was working under Robert Silvers who I think is the best-living editor and just being around him and seeing how he worked was tremendously valuable and- and fascinating to me. And it- it-- he really taught me by example how to be an editor- how to edit, and- and the editing also helped the way I- I write. And, you know, things like clarity of thought and directness, being sort of the most prized qualities; that was really impressed upon me deeply. And then I left to- to write these books and I came back to work at The Paris Review and it’s also- it’s-- The Paris Review has always been a place for young people. You know, most of the staff was under 30 for most of the magazine’s history except for George Plimpton, but it was founded by a bunch of 22, 23-year-olds. And over time, even as Plimpton was in his 60s and 70s, the staff- the, you know, most senior editors were usually 28 or 29. So it’s exciting for me to be part of that tradition, and also, there- there- there’s a long tradition of- of editors who were writers and- or went on to write and did both at the same time. So it’s been exciting and it’s- it’s been humbling to work with such great writers, as I’m- I’m fortunate enough to do. So it’s been a extremely valuable experience.Bob is a- I feel like he knows more about every subject, basically, than anybody else in a room except for maybe someone who’s an expert on the specific subject in question. He is- remarkable breadth of intelligence and is able to read a piece and understand his flaws and strengths almost, you know, in- instantly, and he has a wonderful sense of- of language and the way sentences work, the way words work. And generally, I mean, the- the basic editorial premise behind The New York Review and what makes it so great is that it’s- it’s to take any subject matter, no matter how erudite or complex or difficult, and- and make it available- make it understandable to a lay reader who is an intelligent reader but doesn’t necessarily know anything about particle physics or about the history of the Middle Ages, or something like that. And that doesn’t mean dumb it down, but it means to put it in a-- express ideas in a clear, concise, straightforward way, and- and that’s something that The New York Review does better than any other publication, I think. And it’s really-- it’s- it’s completely Bob doing that and- and the writers. So seeing the way that he would transform pieces, some of which would come in totally filled with jarg-- I can- jargon or sort of fluffy writing. He could- he would see right through that and just nail down the ideas and lay everything out in a straightforward manner. And it’s something that really is a skill that, as I said, helps with editing- any kind of anything, whether-- even if it’s fiction. So it was- it was a really exciting place to be. It felt very much like getting a- a Masters or some kind of graduate degree, or it was a kind of apprenticeship maybe. I don’t know if Bob thinks of it that way, but I- I felt it- I felt like that.

 

Recorded On: 3/17/08

Image courtesy of Shutterstock/Yuri Arcurs

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