Though the topic for the evening was editing, it began with confessions of the heart. “I think I was entirely lost as a human being until I found books and magazines,” said JC Gabel, Publisher and Editor of Stop Smiling Books, the imprint that grew out of the arts and culture magazine of the same name that he co-edited for ten years. “If I’m going to work 80 hours a week, I might as well have it be doing something I love.”
Lorin Stein, who’s come in with a bang as the new editor of The Paris Review, concurred, speaking about the job of editor as a passionate sort of relationship. “I’ve learned by screwing up,” he said. “You have much too much power, and you can often get away with a bad edit, and look back years later and repent… When you’re in love, you exercise a kind of discretion that’s not always called for when you’re not in love.”
Gabel and Stein took the stage as part of “What’s New & What’s Next in Chicago Publishing,” a regular series of conversations hosted by DCA’s Publishing Industry Programs, which takes place at Maxim’s: The Nancy Goldberg International Center. Nimbly moderated by Literago.org’s Mairead Case, the September 30th discussion ranged from first editing experiences (for Stein, it was using Strunk & White to polish his parents’ speeches; for Gabel, putting together zines), to influences (Stein credited his love for great literature like Proust and Hardy; Gabel remembered reading The Paris Review and the vintage Playboy, which he read for the articles, of course); and the ever-present concern of whether e-readers will replace the book-as-object.
Though, for Stein, technology wasn’t much of a concern. “I’m not worried about the future,” he said. “Because I know what I want and I know what my friends want and I know that when [Jonathan] Franzen’s book went on sale it sold 35,000 copies the first day, and it’s not an easy book. That tells me that there are people alive now who give a damn about this kind of stuff.” Gabel was a bit less sanguine. “You’re never going to convince someone like me to read something like a Thomas Pynchon book on an iPad,” he said. Stop Smiling’s strategy for dealing with the encroachment of the internet on art is “to create books that are just as much objects as they are something to read,” a plan which reflects the attention to design and style that has always been part of the Stop Smiling image.
The crowd of approximately 150 people from Chicago’s publishing and literary community, seated in Maxim’s red velvet-lined theatre, were more like participants in a salon than a subdued audience. A lively Q & A session included questions about the difference between editing fiction and nonfiction, whether the task of the editor is still to blur the line between “high culture” and indie culture, and the value of blogging, allowing for some choice banter between the two guests, who have been friends for several years.
On the question of communicating with authors, Gabel said “I’m always face to face if possible, and if not, a phone call….It gives you an opening to be really brash in your follow-up comments because you’ve just had this really jovial conversation.” “You are your own bad cop,” Stein quipped.
The convivial spirit lasted after the program had ended, when guests were invited into Maxim’s long, skinny bar to meet the editors and each other. Many heady literary conversations could be overheard, inspired perhaps by the art nouveau scroll work and rich mahogany tones as well as Stein’s and Gabel’s example. As is often the case after an evening at Maxim’s, many of us didn’t want to leave and had to be politely ushered up the spiral staircase to lob our literary thoughts into the crisp Gold Coast night.
For a complete recording of the evening, please visit Chicago Amplified’s archived audio of the event. You can also read Lorin Stein’s blog post about his time in Chicago on The Paris Review blog here. More pictures from the event can be found on our tumblr.