Favorite Books: Blake Bailey Likes “In the Land of Men,” a book about the ethos of men’s magazines.

From a Wall Street Journal roundup headlined “Leaders in Literature, Politics, and Art Share Their Favorite Books of 2020″—this is from Blake Bailey:

During this nasty, nasty year, I looked for intelligent escapism in my reading, and one of the books that filled the bill was “In the Land of Men” by Adrienne Miller, who became fiction editor of Esquire in 1997, at age 25. The book’s title refers to the ethos of men’s magazines in the waning days of print journalism, where Ms. Miller thrived because she was smart and capable but also because she cultivated (by her own account) “a spirit of irony, leniency, and good humor” in the face of what amounted to institutionalized sexism.

Ms. Miller’s good humor is nowhere more in evidence as when she reflects on her romantic attachment to David Foster Wallace, one of Esquire’s most distinguished contributors and, at his worst, a beastly swine toward women. “You may know more words than she does,” Wallace remarked to Ms. Miller re one of her successors, “but she’s better at cleaning my underwear.”

And yet Wallace was also the wistful humanist whose famous 2005 address “This Is Water” advised Kenyon graduates, well, not to be like David Foster Wallace: fatally entombed in their own brains (“the terrible master”). With a kind of deploring bemusement, and love, Ms. Miller gives us Wallace more or less in the round, and even manages to be funny about it—no mean feat.

Mr. Bailey’s “Philip Roth: The Biography” will be published in April.

Speak Your Mind