Robert Gottlieb has been Editor in Chief of Simon and Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker. His most recent book is the memoir Avid Reader: A Life. (June 2017)


‘Make ’Em Cry, Make ’Em Laugh, Make ’Em Wait’

Wilkie Collins, circa 1873–1874; photograph by Napoleon Sarony

The King of Inventors: A Life of Wilkie Collins

by Catherine Peters

Wilkie Collins

by Peter Ackroyd
There are novels that grip you despite inconsistencies of plot, failures of tone or characterization, lack of depth—you may not even like them, but you have to go on reading: their sheer force and urgency are irresistible. The Three Musketeers and Uncle Tom’s Cabin are not Middlemarch or Proust, but …

Brilliant, Touching, Tough

Drawing of Mary Astor by Edward Sorel from Mary Astor’s Purple Diary

Mary Astor’s Purple Diary: The Great American Sex Scandal of 1936

by Edward Sorel

The Purple Diaries: Mary Astor and the Most Sensational Hollywood Scandal of the 1930s

by Joseph Egan
Lucile Vasconcellos Langhanke was born in 1906. “Mary Astor” was born in 1921—that was the name that went up in lights for the first time, at Manhattan’s Rivoli Theater, where, not yet sixteen, she was playing in a short film called The Beggar Maid. Soon her Madonna-like face was spotted …

‘A Monstrous Prodigy’

Thomas Wolfe, April 1937; photograph by Carl Van Vechten


a film directed by Michael Grandage

Father to Daughter: The Family Letters of Maxwell Perkins

by Maxwell Perkins, edited by Louise Perkins King, Ruth King Porter, and Bertha Perkins Frothingham
The movie Genius, which recently came and went with predictable celerity, is an earnest attempt to track the relationship between Thomas Wolfe and his famous editor, Maxwell Perkins, by turning it into a high-flown literary bromance: boy meets man, soul meets soul, deeply needy young writer bonds with melancholic son-less …

Brilliant, Troubled Dorothy Parker

Dorothy Parker: Complete Broadway, 1918–1923

edited by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick

Complete Stories

by Dorothy Parker, edited by Colleen Breese, with an introduction by Regina Barreca
She struck a chord with the public: from the start, her voice spoke to a wide range of readers. Her generally sardonic, often angry, occasionally brutal view of men and women—of love and marriage, of cauterized despair—triggered recognition and perhaps even strengthened resolve. She told the truth as she perceived it, while using her wit and humor to hold at arm’s length the feelings that her personal experiences had unleashed in her.


An Actress Like No Other

Setsuko Hara as Noriko Somiya in Yasujirō Ozu's Late Spring, 1949

Noriko, in Ozu’s Tokyo Story, is the quintessential Setsuko Hara character: she’s the archetype of the post-war, modern young woman. Yet she also embodies the virtues of the traditional Japanese woman: loyalty, self-sacrifice, suffering in silence; she’s the perfect daughter, wife, mother. She was utterly real, yet she represented an ideal…the ideal.

Tame Jane

Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre, a film directed by Cary Fukunaga

The new film version of Jane Eyre isn’t all bad, but it’s all wrong. The story, despite a confusing flashback structure, is coherent. The dialogue is satisfying. The look is convincing. What’s lacking is Jane Eyre itself—Charlotte Brontë’s feverish inner world of anguish and fury.

Monstres Sacrés in Love

Igor Stravinsky (Mads Mikkelsen) and Coco Chanel (Anna Mouglalis)

All bio-pix are by definition ridiculous since their subjects have to be manifestly unique people—why else would the movie be made?—while what makes them unique is exactly what’s so impossible to convey. (Creativity is invisible, hence unfilmable.)