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Friday, January 13, 2017

Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship: Memoir of a Highly Visible Man

The initial related related thoughts regarding the  OR Books January 10, 2017 release of the memoir "Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship by Grove Press founder Barney Rosset are that Rosset seems to consider himself the Orson Welles of the book world and the philosophy of a friend that boasting is not arrogance if you are that good. A passage in which Rosset compares leading an audience from one theater to another to a similar incident involving Welles validates the first impression; not knowing of the late Rosset before reading the book hinders determining if Rosset deserves what literally is his own press.

Putting all this in proper context, "Rosset" is an interesting read that provides a peek at the New York literary scene of the second half of the 20th century. It just would have been better with less namedropping and associated self aggrandizing.

Rosset largely takes a chronological approach to his story with frequent legitimate brief diversions regarding the relationship between events in his early life with ones that occur later. His early history includes having a grandfather whose role in the "Troubles" of 1916 are cited a s providing Rosset with some of the fighting spirit he utilizes in future censorship battles.

We also read of Rosset growing up the son of a Depression-era banker, whose influence in the WWII-era helps his enlisted son. This dogface/aspiring military spy spends most of the war in China.

The post war activities of Rosset largely involve building Grove and related movie and live-stage companies, dating and marrying several beautiful women who remain good friends after the divorce, and maintaining a close friendship with "Waiting for Godot" playwright Samuel Beckett, whom the reader clearly knows is "Sam" to Rosset.

The copious references to Beckett and their reported mutual admiration society is the primary for believing that Rosset is arrogant. An especially annoying story revolves around Rosset depicting himself as an unsung hero regarding lugging a television set and a VCR from America to France to allow Beckett to watch a videotape of a performance of "Godot" only to have Beckett decline an offer to keep the equipment.

On a larger level, it seems that Rosset refers to Beckett more than himself. This apparent obsession and somewhat less intense accounts of relationship with other writers portray our subject as a literary star f**ker.

The most relatable censorship battle surrounds the opposition to Grove publishing the controversial Henry Miller novel "The Tropic of Cancer." As is often the case regarding such controversies, the issue is whether the language and graphic scenes are obscenity or art. These legal proceeding further provide a good primer of the American court system, including the hierarchy and relationships of various judicial forums.

Other exciting and/or amusing tales include the activities of Grove prompting an occupation and more violent forms of expression, the company starting in modest quarters and changing locations several times, and behind-the-scenes looks at filmmaking.

Rosset comes across the most human and likable in discussing the changes at Grove late in his career and the next step in his life following those events. You probably will not like the man but should acknowledge his hard work and devotion to his industry.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Rosset" is encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.