It's official: I'm in love with Diana Athill.
Now, I know there's a slight age difference (she's in her nineties, although I rather suspect she might be more young at heart than I am) and that historically I have favored boys over girls as dating partners. However: I would be willing to make an exception for Diana Athill, if she would have me.*
I just finished her memoir Stet: An Editor's Life, and it's awesome. It's exactly what she promises in the subtitle; she describes her work as a longtime editor with the publishing firm Andre Deutsch Limited**, and concludes with several chapters about specific writers with whom she worked.
The first part of the book, in which she describes her life and work, were my favorites. I particularly enjoyed learning how she just sort of stumbled into her job, primarily through her friendship with Andre Deutsch. And the rest of her work chapters tick merrily along through her career milestones, from their early days with just a few authors, to their huge success with Peter Benchley's novel Jaws (and books by V.S. Naipaul, early Margaret Atwood, Jean Rhys, and John Updike), to the buyout of the firm.
After finishing the first part of the book, I thought I might not finish the rest, as Athill's concluding chapters are more in-depth considerations of some of the authors with whom she worked. This would be fine, but most of the writers she references are not ones with whom I'm familiar: Mordecai Richler, Jean Rhys, Alfred Chester, and Molly Keane (I'm familiar with V.S. Naipaul, but have never read any of his novels). But I found I just couldn't bear to return the book to the library without reading the whole thing, and I'm glad I did, because in the last chapter I found this:
"The chief difference, it seems to me, between the person who is lucky enough to possess the ability to create--whether with words or sound or pigment or wood or whatever--and those who haven't got it, is that the former react to experience directly and each in his own way, while the latter are less ready to trust their own responses and often prefer to make use of those generally agreed to be acceptable by their friends and relations." (p. 244.)
I found that really interesting. I can see why this woman was a good editor. Plus, look at that picture of her on the cover. Doesn't she just look like a woman who knows how to have a good time? If you love writing, books, words, etc., do give this memoir a try.
*This might also be awkward to arrange with Mr. CR and CRjr in the picture. And also, Ms. Athill states early on in this book that she first fell in love with the gardener's boy, Denis, when she was four. So I'm pretty sure she wouldn't be interested. I can dream.
**The lovely people who brought you Helene Hanff's 84, Charing Cross Road.