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An Interview with Lucy Rosenthal / Catherine Parke Lucy Rosenthal is the Senior Editorial Advisor at Book-of-the-Month Club. This interview was conducted in December, 1983. Interviewer: Would you tell our readers about your work at Book-ofthe -Month Club? Rosenthal: My present title is Senior Editorial Advisor and for five years I was the only woman on the Editorial Board. Interviewer: What happens to a book when it arrives at your offices? Rosenthal: Our staff of about twenty in-house editors reads just about everything under contract to major houses, as well as books from a number of small presses and university presses. We all read: management reads, the heads of the different clubs read. We also have free-lance readers and if something seems interesting intrinsically or is written by a writer we know about and are interested in for literary or commercial reasons or the occasional happy combination, it makes its way either into the weekly editorial meeting or to the judges who now meet every three weeks. When I was on the Board the books that were candidates for selection and read by all of the judges were called "A" books. Any judge who liked a book could make that book an "A". The procedures are not as formal and systematized as they sound because the book business functions very largely by intuition, sometimes codified by hindsight but I think we all know that you can't really codify taste. It is not science, it is a sixth sense informed by our awareness of popular culture—educated guessing, really. But in any event, books either come in to us as automatic "A's" if they're by George Bernard Shaw or Thornton Wilder, or they're made an "A" by a judge or by management. Interviewer: Is judging a kind of a championing process? Rosenthal: It can be, but it isn't always. Usually it has to do with reaching a consensus. Interviewer: Do any books- stand out in your recollection which you The Missouri Review · 259 sought out and read and said, "Ah this is one I would very much like to see as Book-of-the-Month?" Rosenthal: Yes. While I was on the Board, I felt very strongly about Susan Brownmiller. As it turned out, we all did. Also, a novel by Susan Fromberg Schaeffer called Time in its Flight, and Susan Isaacs' Compromising Positions, which was just so much fun. It's a very smart, tongue-in-cheek novel about a murder and a sort of restless Long Island housewife who gets involved in sleuthing. The victim is a dentist who happens also to be an abominable human being. It was a light novel, very smart and witty. So we chose that and it was a successful book. We also chose Ordinary People and The World According to Garp. A book I like very much, we all liked, was The Face of Battle by John Keegan. It surprised me that I liked it as well as I did. It is by a British military historian, and tells of three key battles, Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme, from the point of view of the men who fought them. A remarkable book. It's what one could call a "consciousness raising" book. Very moving, real. Interviewer: You mentioned popular taste and popular culture. What are the indices of popular taste? Where does one look in culture for taste? Rosenthal: Part of popular taste is curiosity. Our members are very curious, they want to learn things. James Michener, for example, packs in an awful lot of information. The first question one asks oneself is, does it interest me? If the answer is yes, I have to pay attention to why. Shifting back to writing again has complicated the problem because a book can interest me for reasons that have more to do with the things Tm exploring in my writing than with things that might interest the larger constellation of Book-of-the-Month members. So I try to be very scrupulous about drawing all the possible distinctions. Then I ask, does it work on its own terms? Does it do what it set...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 159-175
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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