Tuesday, August 06, 2013


    • A once greenhorn now  chewed-up alley cat, perhaps you will allow me
    • a few growls on Robert Gottlieb's review of Boris Kachka's Hothouse, his biography of  F. S. & G. where I worked,  from 1966 to 1969, and brought 20 Hesse titles, the work of Peter Handke, Hans Erich Nossack, Christa Wolfe,and Nelly Sachs to the firm, and had a few other valuable hot projects in the works when I left,
    •  - a Theodor Adorno reader with a Susan Sontag introduction  -  and, after a few other stops along the rocky road of publishing, founded the ill-fated Urizen Books
    • and would say that F.S.& G. was definitely hot at least in those days, Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion, Donald Barthelme, Robert Lowell at his hottest, the young Susan Sontag, Malamud, I.B. Singer...

    • scout appeared that year at the F.S. & G.’s comfortably unostentatious low rent offices was of Roger's pockmarked rather brutal face and of his twelve-ply suit. Just registering, perhaps significant, perhaps not. At the end of our meeting Roger cherry picked me, one of his apparent talents, to do German books for him, in the past few years I had tuned myself in to what was going on, I had been at the Gruppe 47 meeting at Princeton where I also got my first impression of the so striking and rather girlish Susan Sontag, and indeed it was a shrewd move, I proved a good connection to German publishing, and we  traveled to the Frankfurt Book Fair. We got along, I didn’t mind his Runyonesque demeanor, he seemed fundamentally serious. Someone like the German publisher Ledig Rowohlt was far more flamboyant and also serious.  I recall the firm as being rather comfy, with some extremely nice people working there, Margaret Nicholson in Rights, Robert Wohlforth in Finance, Peggy Miller superb at being cool and slim. It appears that three editors then were homosexual (and Roger made few bones about not caring for gays, at least to me), not just Michael DiCapua and Hal Vussel who was my editor on the Nelly Sachs volume OH THE CHIMNEYS that I put together, translating 65 poems myself, ten of which the New Yorker published. I was unaware of Robert Giroux’s orientation until now as I was of F.S.& G. having been a “sexual sewer”, but then I only needed to be a the office one day a week, yet if anyone’s sexual antennas were tuned mine certainly were. Roger abroad was another matter. No one made a pass at me, there was no one working there who tempted this Tomcat.

    • Though with some real appreciation of Roger Straus' Runjonesque side and the fun it brought into the proceedings, a GREAT publisher he was not. Compare him, say, to Siegfried Unseld of Suhrkamp, and the development of that firm’s many lines and ways of selling the same title twelve different ways, or Christian Bourgeois and his 10/18   - Roger may have acquired Noonday Books from Cecil Hemley and taken its three fishes colophon, but he never developed that quality paperback line into anything comparable to the half dozen others of that kind and use it to really promote his authors.  Ditto for some of the other firms he acquired, Hill + Wang, stepchildren they remained. Nor was Straus a writer's editor as you find so many publishers, especially on the continent, and as Joathan Galassie appears to be who is also a poet and translator and scholar - e.g. Straus completely screwed up the publication of Peter Handke's work in this country, his personal responsibility, not that of the dozen hapless editors who kept inheriting Handke. Handke was hot hot, Avon republished his first five books as TWO & THREE by Handke. The New Yorker published his Left-Handed Woman in its entirety – and then Straus waited 7 years to publish the next title while Handke had written four further books! He passed on my translation of Walk About the Village – after two collections of plays had done extremely well. All it took was to keep your eye on the ball, it's not as easy as publishing Tom Wolfe’s comic strips that can connect with the country’s forever superficial nerve. In the great and some lesser political controversies of his time, McCarthyism, the Vietnam War, etc. Straus was m.i.a., and of course he didn’t do Handke’s controversial Yugoslavia book, Viking did – to become involved in those controversies might spill some egg on his fine suits. Things sticking to suits was a big deal to Roger, and so the first impression acquired weight. I don't know if I met a great among the major publishers in New York, but the recently deceased Arthur Rosenthal of Basic Books and Harvard University Press qualifies I think.

    • And Roger Straus was indeed chintzy as Jonathan Galassi describes him in his take on Kachka's book

    • and the more surprisingly so in light of his origins in the world of great all around wealth, not just chintzy but, as chintz foretells, a chiseler, even of those who bring his firm Nobel Prizes and millions, the kind of person whom no number of Nobel prizes will ennoble. After I left, he was not just chintzy with me, he behaved dishonorably,  arbitrary abrogation of contractual obligation, utterly dishonourable actions, Straus was no gentleman or of his word, and this has real consequences, say for my teeth, and where you have instance of that kind it has been my experience the tiger does not change his stripes. No matter that you might be thrown a bone along the way, such as reviewing the Frankfurt Book Fair for the NY Times Book Review or introduced to some $ 100 an hour outside editing while I ran Urizen to help keep it afloat. Thus Robert Giroux's statement that he could never write a history of the firm at the thought of Roger (see & then, ever so unfortunately, makes the best of retrospective sense.

    • Mentions of Straus's friendship with the equally flamboyant but deadly serious Susan Sontag, who, oddly, looked like his twin sister at her death, brings to mind that I don't think Straus ever did any of the many interests she championed, money losers of course most of them! Smart would have been to give someone with such ranging interest her own line of books. The apparent need to be in a position to pay huge sums to satisfy grandiose egos redounds to the detriment of the many fine others, and thus to that of the culture as a whole. You can decide not to play that game.
    • F.S.&G. did not publish Jerzy Kosiński as Mr. Gottlieb  implies. The Painted Bird(1965) Roger                    wanted to do it, but his editors didn't know
    • what it was and how to fit it in. Roger Straus who then sold F.S.G for 30 Million and screwed me out of my few pennies may his reputation be forever ill!


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MICHAEL ROLOFF exMember Seattle Psychoanalytic Institute and Society this LYNX will LEAP you to all my HANDKE project sites and BLOGS: "MAY THE FOGGY DEW BEDIAMONDIZE YOUR HOOSPRINGS!" {J. Joyce} "Sryde Lyde Myde Vorworde Vorhorde Vorborde" [von Alvensleben] contact via my website


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