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Selected Letters of Norman Mailer by Norman…
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Selected Letters of Norman Mailer

by Norman Mailer

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Amazing collection of some remarkable letters from Mailer is well worth the time of interested parties. However, the choice to include all comments/context as endnotes makes for a very tedious read, especially when you consider this thing weighs about 10lbs : ( ( )
  Zonnywhoop | Mar 16, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Selected Letters of Norman Mailer
Edited by J. Michael Lennon
Random House
Reviewed by Karl Wolff

Norman Mailer (1923 - 2007) was a titan of the Postwar literary scene. He crashed on to the landscape of American letters in 1948 with his Big Damn Book about a Big Damn War with The Naked and The Dead. Throughout his career, he wrestled with the legacy of Ernest Hemingway, exploding the Stoic Hero in 1965 with the controversial novel, An American Dream. Besides his novels, his personal reporting of events created the New Journalism of the Sixties. His pioneering non-fiction writing led to two Pulitzer Prizes. The first for The Armies of the Night, written in 1968, and the second for The Executioner's Song, in 1979. In public appearances, Mailer was erudite, quick-witted, belligerent, pugnacious, and kind of a dick. His spats with Gore Vidal are the stuff of legend. He married six times and will be remembered for stabbing one of his wives with a pen knife. Was he a problematic public figure? You bet. Should you read his work? I would highly recommend it.

The publication of Selected Letters of Norman Mailer is a momentous occasion, not only for Mailer fans and scholars, but for those interested in the long-term development of this controversial writer. Edited by J. Michael Lennon, Mailer's archivist and authorized biographer, culled a choice 3% from Mailer's voluminous correspondence. Mailer was a compulsive letter writer. In this collection, we witness the budding friendships between Mailer, William Styron, and James Jones. He answers letters from aspiring writers and has prolonged arguments with his various publishers. His battle to get Rinehart and Company to include "fug" in The Naked and The Dead was a small triumph for the freedom of expression. While not the four-letter word, in 1948 the United States still wallowed in puritanism and repression when it came to arts and literature. Mailer poured his experiences of being a Marine stationed in the Philippines into creating a Big Important Novel. In addition to the letters, Lennon provides copious notes, identifies otherwise obscure historical figures, and offers ratings for all of Mailer's published works.

While Mailer presented himself as an exemplar of Jewish-American machismo, through the letters we get a glimpse from another perspective. Like many writers, he constantly complained about money problems. He also wrote passionate letters to his several wives. We witness the birth of children and of literary works. The process of writing a novel or a make-work non-fiction piece comes with Mailer's unending commentary. By turns acerbic, tender, bitchy, profane, and erudite, we see both private individual and public persona. He was an American public intellectual, back when we had those types. Mailer was a mainstream writer of tremendous importance. His sudden fame came at the cost of balancing the writing craft with public appearances. The question still remains about his literary worth. Will he be remembered ten, twenty, or 100 years into the future? Was he the next Herman Melville? Or was he yet another Ernest Hemingway derivative? Only time will tell. The publication of these letters can shed a light into determining his literary value for future generations.

Selected Letters of Norman Mailer captures the private personality of a larger-than-life author. It is an exploration of everything from military service, religious faith, masculinity, machismo, and Jewish identity.
Out of 10/9.0

http://www.cclapcenter.com/2016/01/book_review_selected_letters_o.html ( )
  kswolff | Jan 8, 2016 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
Selected Letters of Norman Mailer, Edited by J. Michael Lennon, was a fascinating study into the mind of one of our best-known and prolific writers. The letters were arranged by decade - - the 1940's to the 2000's - - which made the letters easier to read. Through the decades we see the many facets of Norman Mailer and his passion about many things: his family, his service in the Army, his many wives and children, his political views, his friends, and most of all, his writing. Through his letters we are given a peek into the thoughts and life of a complicated, talented man with a lively and honest gift of communication. In the end, the book reads like a biography told in a most personal way. ( )
  gerconk | Jun 23, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I have a love him/hate him thing with Norman Mailer. Twentysome years ago, when I was reading Harlot's Ghost and he was still writing feisty magazine articles, I was a fan girl. Then I slogged through The Naked and the Dead, which may be a very authentic WWII novel, but authentic WWII novels are not my favorite. That's not enough to turn me against the man, but it dimmed my enthusiasm enough to give an ear to the criticism about his misogyny and his ego. He was a busy, complicated, and long-lived man. He fought in WWII. He stabbed one of his 6 wives. He founded the Village Voice. He ran for mayor of New York City, advocating secession to form the 51st state. He wrote a lot of books, including one that he called non-fiction that won a Pulitzer for best novel.

This enormous new book of letters doesn't resolve my conflicted views of Mailer, but it does validate them. J. Michael Lennon has compiled over 700 letters out of over 45,000 pieces of Mailer's correspondence. All this massive sampling can do is give hundreds of glimpses into the mind of a man who continues to fascinate. ( )
  RoseCityReader | May 24, 2015 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
I finished J. Michael Lennon's book a month ago and it's taken me all this time to write a review. All the while I've been staring at the 700+ pp volume containing 700+ letters of America's Great Existensialist, Narrative Journalist, Novelist, Pugilistic Feminist Misogynist, which represents about 2% of his total correspondence.

What, then, can such a collection tell the reader about the man?

Unfortunately for us, Mailer did not regard himself as a letter writer, and with rare exceptions, his letters contain no real insights into his literary life. Secondly, we are deprived of a study of his focused mind because he tried to answer all the mail he got from everybody and never regularly wrote a single person, thus there is no coherent literary dialogue available to us.

What we do see exposed on the page is a restlessly ambitious writer possessed of considerable ego who could assume a number of personalities or moods. He's often tender and compassionate when writing to sick friends or remembering a dead one. He can be a bully to his sister, to publishers, to editors, and to fellow writers. He doesn't shy away from vulgarity, rather he embraces that aspect of life, generating and appreciating crude jokes and explicit sexual language.

He mostly uses his letters to announce how busy, unconfident, and annoyed he is with the work of writing, whether it be journalistic essays for the periodical he established, The Village Voice, or his next novel. When not complaining about his business, he bemoans his lack of "experience," which he blames for his lack of novelistic productivity.

That lack is a rare revelation. Mailer believed he required experience in order to write a book. His most famous novel, The Naked and the Dead that catapulted him into celebrity, is based on his WWII experiences as a gunner who saw combat in the Philippines; an earlier work is based on a week he spent working as an orderly in a New York mental hospital. When he couldn't seem to garner personal experience, he chose to write about the experiences of the most famous killers of his age: Gary Gilmore and Lee Harvey Oswald, achieving a Pulitzer for The Executioner's Song. Both his Pulitzer Prizes were awarded to his narrative nonfiction, something that must have rankled a man who was the self-proclaimed greatest American novelist of his generation.

Lennon's selection covers Mailer's entire life. There is no doubt his life was the reflection of his highly complicated personality, always attuned to the present but pathologically unable to reflect on the past. Mailer could not live without women -- he was married five times. Nor could he live with them -- he stabbed one wife and was divorced four times. He could form deep and lasting friendships then savagely cut them off, only to seek to mend his fences later on.

Few men ever longed so much to be loved and liked and at the same time wished to be envied and feared. It's easy to like the letter writer Norman Mailer, but I don't think I would feel the same way about the living man. ( )
  Limelite | May 5, 2015 |
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"Mailer wrote almost 50,000 letters over the course of his life, keeping a copy of almost every one of them. He corresponded with presidents and politicians, artists and athletes, writers and editors, students, antagonists, fans, friends, his children, his loves, including his beloved sixth wife, Norris Church Mailer. Here are the letters of a precocious sixteen-year-old arriving from Brooklyn at Harvard. Here are the letters depicting the horrors of the war in the Pacific from a soldier's point of view. Here are the letters describing a young writer's struggle with his first novel, a manuscript that would become The Naked and the Dead. And here are the many, many letters of a man who spent sixty years in the spotlight. Read together, they form an autobiographical portrait of Norman Mailer"--… (more)

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