Sunday, March 26, 2017

Robert Silvers and the NYRB

Robert B. Silvers, 1929 - 2017
And my wife tells me I should get rid of some books. For one group of people this looks like heaven, and for the other, hell. Count me in the former. That's Robert Silvers, editor of the New York Review of Books from 1963 to his death last week at the age of 87. I have read NYRB religiously for nearly three decades now, and I think religiously is the right word, both because of the regular pattern of my engagement with it (every Saturday morning) and because I feel it constantly pushes me to be better, in this case at thinking and writing, qualities not as distant from spirituality as one might think.

The tributes to Silvers at the NYRB website by their extensive and accomplished roster of writers reveal the extent to which they admired him both as a person and as an editor. As someone who engages in editing as part of my profession, I could only hope to aspire to a fraction of the editing virtues attributed to Silvers here. The thing about editing is that you need to push past the vague feeling that something is wrong or missing to put your finger on the actual shortcomings or gaps and then communicate them clearly and in ways that encourage. Not easily done.

I often wonder if by definition good editors must be good writers, or typically are good writers. I don't know about Silvers' writing abilities, but he edited a damn good publication that continues to enrich my life.

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