on Norman Podhoretz’s memoir ‘Making It’

Malcolm_1-032218Janet Malcolm at the NYRB:

Norman Podhoretz’s memoir Making It was almost universally disliked when it came out in 1967. It struck a chord of hostility in the mid-twentieth-century literary world that was out of all proportion to the literary sins it may or may not have committed. The reviews were not just negative, but mean. In what may have been the meanest review of all, Wilfred Sheed, a prominent critic and novelist of the time, wrote:

In this mixture of complacency and agitation, he has written a book of no literary distinction whatever, pockmarked by clichés and little mock modesties and a woefully pedestrian tone…. Mediocrities from coast to coast will no doubt take Making It to their hearts and will use it for their own justification…. In the present condition of our society and the world, I cannot imagine a more feckless, silly book.

Even before the book was published it was an object of derision. Podhoretz’s friends urged him not to publish it, and his publisher shrank from it after reading the manuscript. Another publisher gamely took the book, but his gamble did not pay off. Word had spread throughout literary Manhattan about the god-awfulness of what Podhoretz had wrought. This and the reviews sealed the book’s fate. It was a total humiliating failure.

more here.