in Secondary, Works

48.13

“Books I Have Liked.” Preference poll of 40 well-known writers concerning their recent reading. New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, 5 December. Mailer lists three books: The Castle by Franz Kafka; Jennie Gerhardt by Theodore Dreiser; and Howards End by E.M. Forster. Seven of the 40 polled—Bartley Crum, James Hilton, Richard Lauterbach, Sinclair Lewis, Richard Match, Mary Roberts Rinehart and Irwin Shaw—named The Naked and the Dead (48.2). Only two other titles came close: Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter and Robert E. Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, both with five votes. The effusive praise of Sinclair Lewis for the novel, given in an interview with Sylvia B. Richmond (Chelsea [Mass.] Record, 2 October, 5), is worth quoting in its entirety:

Speaking of newcomers in the field—one of the greatest writers of today is young Norman Mailer, author of The Naked and the Dead—an amazing bit of writing. That boy has talent worth preserving. His writing has great sweep and an enormous scope. There’s nothing petty about Mailer—he’s the author of the hour—the greatest writer to come out of his generation.

Advertisements for Mailer’s books carried this last phrase for many years. Mailer received the same kind of accolade in the New York Times, also on 5 December. Emmett Dedmon (Chicago Sun-Times), Lewis Gannett (New Herald Tribune), John Henry Jackson (San Francisco Chronicle), Sterling North (New York Post), Charles Poore (New York Times), Fredric Melcher (Publishers’ Weekly), Orville Prescott (New York Times), Charles Rolo (Atlantic), and Karl Schriftgiesser (Newsweek) all listed the book as one of the top 10 books of the year. Jacques Barzun (Harper’s), Norman Cousins (Saturday Review) and Lon Tinkle (Dallas News) did not. The 13 December Newsweek listed 48.2 as one of the top four books of the year, along with Sherwood’s Roosevelt and Hopkins, Winston Churchill’s The Gathering Storm and Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.

The attack on Mailer in Life (16 August) is also worth mentioning as a harbinger of 50 years of preponderantly negative reviews from the Time-Life organization. In a full-page editorial, Mailer was criticized for “slumming” in 48.2, for presenting an America in the “Time Machine” portions of the novel “just as ugly, arid, boring and uncomfortable as a jungle campaign.” Mailer, the editorial continues, “seems to tell us…that such purposes as marrying and procreating and raising a family or mastering an art or a profession or building a business or beating the Japs are without value to anybody now living.” The novel was later referred to in a Life editorial (16 April 1951) as “insidious slime.” Mailer was immensely pleased when his third wife, Lady Jeanne Campbell, Henry Luce’s quondam mistress, told him that Luce “suffered a bit” when he learned of her relationship with Mailer. See 13.2, 295.