Best Book For Essay And Letter Writing

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"It often occurs to me that e-mail may render a certain kind of literary biography all but obsolete," Blake Bailey, the author of a biography of Richard Yates and a forthcoming one of John Cheever, said.

"It often occurs to me that e-mail may render a certain kind of literary biography all but obsolete," Blake Bailey, the author of a biography of Richard Yates and a forthcoming one of John Cheever, said.

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Today, a new challenge awaits literary biographers and cultural historians: e-mail.

The problem isn't that writers and their editors are corresponding less, it's that they're corresponding infinitely more -- but not always saving their e-mail messages.

This year alone Farrar, Straus & Giroux published "The Letters of Robert Lowell" and a biography of the critic Edmund Wilson that draws on his letters.

But that doesn't necessarily mean the company is saving its own communication with writers.

"I try to save substantive correspondence about issues concerning books we're working on, or about our relations with authors, but I'm sure I don't always keep the good stuff -- particularly the personal interchanges, which is probably what biographers would relish," Jonathan Galassi, the president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, said (via e-mail, of course, like most of the editors and writers interviewed for this story).

"I don't think we've addressed in any systematic way what the long-term future of these communications is, but I think we ought to."Nor has Random House Inc., whose imprints include Alfred A."I'd say something a little bit radical: as much as I respect lots of scholarship in general, what matters most is the books and not 'book chat,' " he said."Something's obviously been lost, even though I don't think it's the most important literary thing we could lose."Book chat or no, great letters are great literature."Unfortunately, since I haven't discovered any convenient way to electronically archive e-mail correspondence, I don't usually save it, and it gets erased from our server after a few months," Treisman said."If there's a particularly entertaining or illuminating back-and-forth with a writer over the editing process, though, I do sometimes print and file the e-mails." The fiction department files eventually go to the New York Public Library, she said, "so conceivably someone could, in the distant future, dig all of this up."The impact on future scholarship is "not something that I've spent much time thinking about," Remnick said."E-mail, I suspect, will be a great boon to biographers, and perhaps people will finally stop whining about the end of the era of letter writing."A boon, perhaps, but only if writers save their e-mail."Unfortunately, I think that once writers become self-conscious about preserving archival material, the game is over," the author Jonathan Franzen said."Letters, however, give a more or less contemporaneous account with a lot of subjective nuance."Still, some think e-mail, in quantity if not necessarily quality, is good for biographers."I know plenty of writers who send long e-mails and probably send more correspondence because they don't have to deal with envelopes and stamps and printers," Carl Rollyson, a prolific biographer of Rebecca West, Marilyn Monroe and many others, said.Knopf, Doubleday and Bantam Dell, set any guidelines. does not have in place a distinct corporate policy for archiving electronic author-publisher correspondence, and we have yet to establish a central electronic archive for housing publishing material," Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for Random House, noted."Each of our publishing divisions decides what author-publisher correspondence and materials they wish to retain." W. Norton doesn't have a policy for saving e-mail messages or letters, leaving it to the discretion of editors, and Harcourt's archiving policy doesn't yet govern e-mail communication.


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