The New Yorker Online, Blogs, Books, December 2009
Great Writer, Great Machine
By Thessaly La Force
Last Friday, Cormac McCarthy’s typewriter sold at Christie’s for a staggering $254,500 to an anonymous American collector. “I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not yet published,” McCarthy wrote in his authentication letter. Of the machine—an Olivetti Lettera 32—Glenn Horowitz, a rare-book dealer who handled the auction for McCarthy, told the New York Times:
When I grasped that some of the most complex, almost otherworldly fiction of the postwar era was composed on such a simple, functional, frail-looking machine, it conferred a sort of talismanic quality to Cormac’s typewriter. It’s as if Mount Rushmore was carved with a Swiss Army knife.
Otherworldly fiction, okay, fine. Talismanic, sure. But is it me, or does Horowitz sound genuinely unimpressed with the Olivetti Lettera 32? Because he really shouldn’t be. “He has all his metaphors right, but he doesn’t understand design,” Paola Antonelli, the Senior Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, told me this week. “Olivetti was a great company. And actually—the Swiss Army knife is another masterpiece!”
Designed by Marcello Nizzoli, the Lettera 22 (and its later incarnation, the 32), was a lightweight and luxurious machine. Simple, as Horowitz said, but purposely so. “Before the Olivetti, typewriters had an old-fashioned look,” said Antonelli, “You could see the keys. There was more decoration. Nizzoli basically changed the shape of typewriters by taking a technological innovation from the auto industry—press-forming steel—and applying it to typewriters. All of a sudden, they had a monocoque look, a real smooth line.” Nizzoli’s first typewriter, created in 1948, was called the Lexikon. Encased in enameled aluminum, a light, malleable metal, the machine has a glorious curve, like an inverted Nike Swoosh. The Lettera 22, made two years later, is encased in steel, and, though boxier, is more portable. Everything, from the keys to the corners, feels as though it’s been smoothed down and rounded over. The Lettera 32 (McCarthy's version) which was introduced in 1963, retains the same essential shape, but has square keys. Both the Lexicon and the Lettera 22 are in MoMA’s permanent collection.
Horowitz also describes the Lettera as “frail-looking.” It may look frail, but McCarthy used his machine for forty-six years and, in his letter, added: “It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose.” Most Olivettis have a longer lifespan than today’s computers.
Olivettis were cherished by many other talented writers, too. Sylvia Plath owned one; so did the playwright James Purdy; John Updike favored a nineteen-forties variety; Ann Landers typed her famous column for the Chicago Sun-Times on one; T. C. Boyle used one his mother gave him until switching to a computer; and Thomas Pynchon likes his so much he even mentions it on page fifteen of “Inherent Vice.”
The New York Times, Arts, Books, November 2009
No Country for Old Typewriters- A Well Used One Heads to Auction
By Patricia Cohen
Cormac McCarthy has written more than a dozen novels, several screenplays, two plays, two short stories, countless drafts, letters and more — and nearly every one of them was tapped out on a portable Olivetti manual typewriter he bought in a Knoxville, Tenn., pawnshop around 1963 for $50.
Lately this dependable machine has been showing irrevocable signs of age. So after his friend and colleague John Miller offered to buy him another, Mr. McCarthy agreed to auction off his Olivetti Lettera 32 and donate the proceeds to the Santa Fe Institute, a nonprofit interdisciplinary scientific research organization with which both men are affiliated.
“He found another one just like this,” a portable Olivetti that looks practically brand new, Mr. McCarthy said from his home in New Mexico. “I think he paid $11, and the shipping was about $19.95.”
Mr. McCarthy, 76, has won a wagon-full of honors including a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award and the MacArthur Foundation’s so-called genius grant. Books like “Blood Meridian,” “All the Pretty Horses” and “The Crossing” have propelled him to the top ranks of American fiction writers.
Even nonreaders are familiar with his storytelling since his two most recently published novels, “No Country for Old Men” and the 2007 Pulitzer winner “The Road,” have been made into movies. (“No Country” won best picture and three other Oscars last year.)
Christie’s, which plans to auction the machine on Friday, estimated that it would fetch between $15,000 and $20,000. Mr. McCarthy wrote an authentication letter — typed on the Olivetti, of course — that states:
“It has never been serviced or cleaned other than blowing out the dust with a service station hose. ... I have typed on this typewriter every book I have written including three not published. Including all drafts and correspondence I would put this at about five million words over a period of 50 years.”
Speaking from his home in Santa Fe, Mr. McCarthy said he mistakenly thought that the typewriter was bought in 1958; it was actually a few years later. He had a Royal previously, but before he went off to Europe in the early 1960s, he said, “I tried to find the smallest, lightest typewriter I could find.”
Mr. McCarthy is known for being taciturn, particularly about his writing. He came to realize that not only his working method but even his tools are puzzling to a younger generation.
He remembers one summer when some graduate students were visiting the Santa Fe Institute. “I was in my office clacking away,” he said. “One student peered in and said: ‘Excuse me. What is that?’ ”
“I don’t have some method of working,” he said, adding that he often works on different projects simultaneously. A few years ago, when he was in Ireland, “I worked all day on four different projects,” he said. “I worked two hours on each. I got a lot done, but that’s not usual.”
Glenn Horowitz, a rare-book dealer who is handling the auction for Mr. McCarthy, said: “When I grasped that some of the most complex, almost otherworldly fiction of the postwar era was composed on such a simple, functional, frail-looking machine, it conferred a sort of talismanic quality to Cormac’s typewriter. It’s as if Mount Rushmore was carved with a Swiss Army knife.”
The institute is in a rambling house built in the 1950s that sits on a hill overlooking Santa Fe. “It’s been under not-so-benign neglect,” Mr. McCarthy said.
He is working to help upgrade parts of the house, like the library. It turns out that architecture is one of the many odd jobs that Mr. McCarthy said he had had in his life.
He joined the institute at the invitation of its founder, the physicist Murray Gell-Mann, whom he met at a MacArthur Foundation meeting years ago. “It’s just a great place,” said Mr. McCarthy, whose primary responsibilities at the institute are eating lunch and taking afternoon tea.
He still has a house in Texas. If he had his druthers, he would live there now, except “they wouldn’t move the institute.”
The New Yorker, A Letter From Austin, June 2007
Final Destination: Why do the archives of so many great writers end up in Texas?
By D.T. Max
During Staley’s two decades in the job, he has bought nearly a hundred literary collections—including papers of Jorge Luis Borges, John Osborne, Julian Barnes, Arthur Miller, Tom Stoppard, Penelope Fitzgerald, John Fowles, Isaac Bashevis Singer, and Don DeLillo—and, as he moves toward retirement, his buys are getting bigger. In 2003, Texas bought the Watergate papers of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for five million dollars. (A sealed file revealing the then secret identity of Deep Throat, Mark Felt, was deposited at a trustee’s office in Washington.) In 2005, Staley paid two and a half million dollars for the collection of Norman Mailer, which included twenty-five thousand of Mailer’s letters, along with the identification tags of his late poodle, Tibo. The archive—weighing twenty thousand pounds in all—came to the center in a tractor trailer. The New York book dealer Glenn Horowitz, who brokered the two deals, says of Staley, “He’s looking for projects that have a culminating quality to them.” ...
The New York Times, Arts, Books, Sunday Book Review, March 2007
Profile: Glenn Horowitz, The Papers Chase
By Rachel Donadio
When writers die, their work lives on — and their papers go to Texas. Or Yale, Harvard, Emory, the New York Public Library, the British Library and other scholarly institutions that collect authors’ manuscripts and correspondence. How such papers change hands — and find monetary value — is the result of a peculiar alchemy between market forces and literary reputations.
One leading alchemist is a Manhattan rare-book dealer named Glenn Horowitz, who in recent years has come to dominate the rarefied market in literary archives. Like the art and real estate markets, the archive market has gone through the roof, and Horowitz, with his wealthy clients and a belief that books will gain increasingly fetishistic status in the digital age, has helped bolster it. Among other deals, he has brokered the sale of Norman Mailer’s and Don DeLillo’s papers to the deep-pocketed Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas in Austin — where he also helped place the Watergate notebooks of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein for an astounding $5 million in 2003.
Cultivator of well-placed authors, widows and heirs, Horowitz combines the curiosity of an intellectual with the instincts of a businessman. He is known for sharp elbows, unyielding persistence and the high — some say inflated — prices he extracts for his clients. Through his two galleries on the Upper East Side and in East Hampton, which he runs with the art dealer John McWhinnie, Horowitz organizes book and art exhibitions — and parties that glamorize books as luxury products and help drum up business. “As Glenn himself says, he’s a terrific combination of a scholar and a grifter,” said Rick Gekoski, a book dealer in London who regularly does business with Horowitz.
...In 2002, Horowitz arranged for the Rechler collection to be auctioned at Christie’s. Six of the books brought in record bids for their authors: “The Great Gatsby” ($163,500), “Lolita” ($273,500), “On the Road” ($185,500), “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” ($152,500) and “The Lord of the Rings” ($152,500). In a somewhat unusual arrangement, Horowitz himself bought back most of the books at the Christie’s auction, acting on behalf of private collectors, as well as the Morgan Library and the New York Public Library. Horowitz bought the Kaeser “Ulysses” for a private collector on the Upper East Side — for $460,500, almost 10 times what Silverman had paid 15 years earlier.
But Horowitz isn’t done with the deal yet. Leaning back on his conference-room chair, he tells me he’s still trying to get the Kaeser “Ulysses” back. Why? “Because I know someone who wants it.” He thinks it could be the first 20th-century volume to break the $1 million mark. “That’s what I do,” he says. “I trade books.”
House and Garden, March 11, 2005
Truly Remarkable and Varied Literary Archive
By Melissa Orowa
To read a manuscript draft is to be given an enviable glimpse into a writer's process. With the recent sale of Vita Sackville-West's literary archive-school essays, poems she wrote to Virginia Woolf, essays on gardening-to rare-book seller Glenn Horowitz, we are able to take an intimate tour of the literary life of the poet, novelist, garden writer, and creator of Sissinghurst, one of the most beloved gardens in England. "It is a rare opportunity for a full archive of someone of such mythological stature to be available for purchase," Horowitz says. The handwritten and typescript manuscripts, priced from $2,500 to $45,000, reveal the varied interests of the prolific writer. As her son, Nigel Nicolson, writes in the catalog's introduction, they paint "a self-portrait of a remarkable woman and [are] the product of an immenself versatile mind."
The New York Times, Arts, April 1999
Nabokov As Mounted Specimen; A Centennial Celebration Encases the Writer's Life
By Sarah Boxer
The novelist, lepidopterist, translator and teacher known as V N, V. Sirin, Vasily Shishkov, Vivian Dark bloom and Vladimir Nabokov would have turned 100 this Friday. The birthday party has begun without him. If he had scripted it himself, he could not have produced a better nightmare.
In his memoir, ''Speak, Memory,'' Nabokov writes about ''a young chronophobiac who experienced something like panic'' when he watched a home movie taken weeks before he was born. ''He saw a world that was practically unchanged -- the same house, the same people -- and then realized that he did not exist there at all and that nobody mourned his absence. He caught a glimpse of his mother waving from an upstairs window, and that unfamiliar gesture disturbed him, as if it were some mysterious farewell. But what particularly frightened him was the sight of a brand-new baby carriage standing there on the porch, with the smug, encroaching air of a coffin.''
If a prenatal home movie could cause such panic, think what a post-mortem birthday party could do.
Nabokov-the-ghost would see that everything had changed. His mother would not be waving, but his son, Dmitri, would be there, a large and tragic version of himself. Then Nabokov would see his biographer, his wife's biographer, his English translator, the lawyer for his estate, the merchant selling off his library piece by piece. This time it would not be a mysterious farewell but an uncanny hello from the appreciative ghouls holding the bits of his life.
Vladimir (rhymes with redeemer) Nabokov (rhymes with the gawk of) was born on April 23, 1899, in St. Petersburg, Russia. Last week the Nabokov centennial celebration began in New York with a Town Hall symposium sponsored by PEN American Center, The New Yorker and Vintage Books. Martin Amis (novelist), Alfred Appel (friend and interpreter), Brian Boyd (biographer), Richard Ford (novelist), Elizabeth Hardwick (critic), Dmitri Nabokov (son), Joyce Carol Oates (novelist), David Remnick (journalist), Michael Scammell (translator) and Stacy Schiff (biographer) all came to pay their respects.
This week the celebration continues. The New York Public Library is exhibiting Nabokov's manuscripts alongside his black-rimmed glasses, butterfly net and worn-down pencils. Glenn Horowitz Bookseller Inc. in Manhattan is showing off and selling off Nabokov's library, including the dedication copies he inscribed to Vera, his wife, with fanciful, colorful hand-drawn butterflies. Ms. Schiff's biography ''Vera'' is coming out, with the details of a Nabokov affair with a poodle groomer. And Nabokov's memoir, which he originally wrote in English as ''Conclusive Evidence,'' then translated into Russian, then retranslated into English as ''Speak, Memory,'' is being issued yet again, with Nabokov's review of it installed as a 16th chapter.
Maybe V N would recognize the world he left in 1977, maybe not. Dmitri Nabokov, once a fast-living opera singer and race-car driver, now chastened by a near-death experience after a fiery crash and the death of his mother in 1991, has decided to devote himself to literature. He is revising his own novel about parallel lives, which has a love scene told in mathematical formulas. With his lawyer, he is fighting the American and British publication of ''Lo's Diary,'' a new novel by an Italian writer, Pia Pera, about Humbert and Lolita told from Lolita's perspective. And he is thinking of finishing his father's half-done novel, ''The Original of Laura,'' which Nabokov asked his family to destroy.
Town and Country, December 11, 1998
Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in New York celebrated James Joyce's greatest work in the store's "Novel of the Century" exhibition.
The New York Times, Books, May 1996
This is a New York story about a rare book dealer, a Teamsters boss and James Joyce. It includes anxious moments at an auction at Christie's, corruption at the powerful teamsters' union Local 810 near Union Square and brief appearances by Carter Burden, the politician and socialite, as well as Steve Forbes, the publishing heir and short-time presidential candidate.
The story is about greed and pretension, and about the seemingly genetic predisposition of certain people to collect, be it campaign buttons or modern art. It is also about the belief that book collecting is the highest order of acquisitiveness because books, unlike paintings, are tucked discreetly away on shelves yet contain the universe of human experience.
Tonight, a chapter of the story comes to a close when the rare book dealer Glenn Horowitz holds an opening-night party in his East Side shop to celebrate a $2.4 million exhibit of first-edition works by Joyce, including two copies of "Ulysses" signed by the author. In the rare book world, this is of great interest.
"It is a major, major Joyce offering," said Thomas F. Staley, the director of the Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas and a leading Joyce scholar.
Of additional interest is that Mr. Horowitz acquired the bulk of the collection from his longtime client, Dennis M. Silverman, the former president of Local 810.
In 1993, Mr. Silverman was ousted by the teamsters' general president, Ron Carey, on international union charges that Mr. Silverman misappropriated Local 810 funds and that the money paid for, among other things, a cabinet stocked with 330 bottles of expensive liquor and wine and a chauffeured Lincoln Town Car for Mr. Silverman's father. In addition, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters said, Mr. Silverman and other family members employed by the local received compensation totaling nearly $500,000. Over the years Mr. Silverman made so much money that he was able to assemble one of the finest private collections of first edition works by Joyce in the world.
"He was a collector," Mr. Horowitz said of Mr. Silverman, who amassed comic books and baseball cards as a child. "He smelled the object of his desire, and he came in pursuit of it."
Mr. Horowitz, 40, has a look vaguely reminiscent of an erudite teddy bear and has an aggressive business style that is far different from his colleagues in the genteel world of rare books. His clients find him winning; some book dealers are less enamored. Mr. Horowitz is considered one of the half-dozen major dealers in the United States of 20th-century first editions, and he has sold Winston Churchill first editions and manuscripts to Mr. Forbes. In his East Hampton shop, he has sold early English and American gardening books to Martha Stewart, the life style doyenne.
The Prelude Of Players, Investors And Thrill-Seekers
Mr. Horowitz said he knew nothing of Mr. Silverman's activities at the local for hospital employees and light industry workers until he read of Mr. Silverman's troubles in the newspapers in the early 1990's. Although rare books are some of the world's most portable, negotiable commodities, Mr. Horowitz said he had no reason to believe that Mr. Silverman acquired the books for any purpose other than thrill and investment.
Joseph Padellaro, the trustee appointed by Mr. Carey to clean up Local 810, said Mr. Silverman's Joyce collection was kept at home and was beyond the scope of his investigation that turned up, for example, $2,000 in tickets for a Whoopi Goldberg concert bought with union funds. "I couldn't say that he bought the books with union money," Mr. Padellaro said. "But we knew they were very costly."
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