Friday, December 5, 2014

Triumph at the Biltmore — Norman Mailer — Medium

Triumph at the Biltmore — Norman Mailer — Medium:

J.Michael Lennon,  author of 'A Double Life", the terrific biography of Norman Mailer, has written a fine and delicately argued introduction for an expensive re-issue of a famous Mailer essay, 'Superman Comes to the Supermarket". It's prime Mailer, set in the Sixties, describing JFK's quest for the White House. It's a fine piece of writing, and with  it Mailer waxes poetic and apocalyptic as to what the election can mean for a greater or grimmer America.

It's interesting that Taschen is reproducing what it considers marketable portions of Mailer's books ("Of a Fire on the Moon") or turning stand alone essays like "Superman Comes to the Supermarket" into singular books . The problem is the essay, which is an inspired piece of journalism that influenced writers for decades to come, is book length. At 370 pages, this edition is doubtlessly graced with many fine photographs of the time, but the effect is that it's a coffee table book which makes Mailer's prose something of captions that accompany the images. In addition, the price is absurd, at $100 retail. I support introducing Mailer to new readers with new editions and new critical overviews to limn his relevance to literature and our culture, but the price tag on this finally skimpy sharing of his work is not the way to do. Mailer himself might have been flattered by the treatment, but even he would have to admit the irony of being made into a commodity that can be molded to suit the seller's needs. A piece of plastic , in other words, Mailer's worst nightmare.

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