I can remember when Tina Brown was in charge of The New Yorker and a writer named Mark Singer interviewed me for a profile. He was depressed. I was thinking, O.K., expect the worst. Not only was Tina Brown dragging The New Yorker to a new low, this writer was drowning in his own misery, which could only put me in a skeptical mood regarding the outcome of their combined interest in me. Misery begs misery, and they were a perfect example of this credo.
Jeff MacGregor, the reviewer of Character Studies, a collection of Singer’s New Yorker profiles, including the one about me, writes poorly… Maybe he and Mark Singer belong together. Some people cast shadows, and other people choose to live in those shadows. To each his own. They are entitled to their choices.
Most writers want to be successful. Some writers even want to be good writers. I’ve read John Updike, I’ve read Orhan Pamuk, I’ve read Philip Roth. When Mark Singer enters their league, maybe I’ll read one of his books. But it will be a long time– he was not born with great writing ability… Maybe he should… try to develop himself into a world-class writer, as futile as that may be, instead of having to write about remarkable people who are clearly outside of his realm.
I’ve been a best-selling author for close to 20 years. Whether you like it or not, facts are facts. The highly respected Joe Queenan mentioned in his article ‘Ghosts and the Machine’ (March 20) that I had produced ‘a steady stream of classics’ with ‘stylistic seamlessness’ and that the ‘voice’ of my books remained noticeably constant to the point of being an ‘astonishing achievement.’
This was high praise coming from an accomplished writer. From losers like Jeff MacGregor, whom I have never met, or Mark Singer, I do not do nearly as well. But I’ll gladly take Joe Queenan over Singer and MacGregor any day of the week–it’s simple thing called talent!
I have no doubt that Singer’s and MacGregor’s books will do badly– they just don’t have what it takes. Maybe someday they’ll astonish us by writing something of consequence.
September 11, 2005, The New York Times.