Mailer, Norman. Selected Letters of Norman Mailer. Edited by J. Michael Lennon. New York: Random House, 2014.
Letters can be so revealing, especially when the author is only writing for the intended audience of the recipient(s). There is a raw honesty about true character that comes through each missive. The Selected Letters of Norman Mailer is arranged in chronological order. Starting in 1940, Mailer is a student at Harvard writing to his parents, and like any typical kid he is constantly asking for money (“I have to pay for my meals not & I hate to starve myself” p 12). What comes through (besides his self described poverty) is how serious, even then, he was about his writing…even if he was a little pompous about how “easy” it was for him to get published. [As an aside, I had to laugh when I discovered his mom typed his stories for him.] With his wife, once he is in the army in ’45, Mailer is more intimate and revealing. He confides in her about World War II in a way he couldn’t with anyone else. What I found off-putting was how he treated her through these letters, the names he called her. But if she put up with it, or even liked it, who am I to judge? Hello? Have you read 50 Shades? But, that’s not the point of this review. I’m not here to talk about the man but the book. This is definitely something for the diehard Mailer fan. It does help if you have familiar with Mailer’s work, but you don’t have to be to enjoy Selected Letters. Lennon arranges Mailer’s missives to reveal a growing artist, youthfully cocky, intensely passionate and protective of his craft. Just read the letters in which Mailer defends the use of profanity and refuses to have it culled from The Naked and the Dead. From the 40s blossoms a writer sure of himself and the his place in the world.
I liked learning new things about Mailer and his writing. For instance, I didn’t know Naked and the Dead was a play and it has never been performed.
Reason read: As a member of the Early Review program for LibraryThing, I am reviewing Selected Letters. This, amazingly, is my 91st ER/LT book.
I love it when the books I chose to read in a given month are “interlocking.” For example, Wild Blue, Maus I, Maus II, A Good Life, Polish Officer, and The Assault all took place in and around the events of World War II. It wasn’t planned that way, but they all had that common theme. In January I finished Shot in the Heart by Mikal Gilmore. Gilmore wrote a heart wrenching first hand account of his family. Now, as an Early Review award, I have read Norman Mailer’s Selected Letters. Mailer, of course, wrote The Executioner’s Song about Mikal’s brother so I knew there will be letters about Gary.
Author fact: I chose this book because I am a diehard letter writer myself. Like Mailer, it is inconceivable to me to not answer a letter. It is for this reason I share a special kinship with Mr. Mailer.
Book trivia: Over 860 pages long, Selected Letters is quite the heavy book. The subject matter was so fascinating I didn’t notice the length. What I missed, though, was a hand written letter from Mailer. I don’t know why but I wanted to see what his handwriting looks like! Lennon could have included just one! He did include photographs of himself throughout the years.
As an aside: I enjoyed jotting down some of the books Mailer mentions in his letters. They include Of Human Bondage, Walden, Anna Karenina, Walk in the Sun, Passage to India, The White Tower and Ulysses to name a few.