Synopses & Reviews
Lavishly illustrated, The Way It Wasn't
offers an intimate firsthand encounter with 20th-century Modernism, from the extraordinary man who defined it for America.
James Laughlin poet, ladies' man, heir to a steel fortune, and the founder of New Directions was still at work on his autobiography when he died at 83. He left behind personal files crammed with memories and memorabilia: in "M" he is taking Marianne Moore to Yankee games (outings captured here in charming snapshots) to discuss "arcane mammals," and in "N" nearly plunging off a mountain, hunting butterflies with Nabokov ("Volya was a doll in a very severe upper-crust Russian way").
With an accent on humor, The Way It Wasn't is a scrapbook loaded with ephemera letters and memories, clippings and photographs. This richly illustrated album glitters like a magpie's nest, if a magpie could have known Tennessee Williams, W.C. Williams, Merton, Miller, Stein, and Pound. In "C": "I wish that nice Jean Cocteau were still around. He took me to lunch at the Grand Véfours in the Palais-Royal and explained all about flying saucers. He understood mechanical things. He would advise me." In "P": "There was not much 'gracious living' in Pittsburgh, where at one house, the butler passed chewing gum on a silver salver after coffee." And: "The world is full of a large number of irritating people." In "H" there's Lillian Hellman: "What a raspy character. When I knocked at her door to try to borrow one of her books (hoping to butter her up) she only opened her door four inches and said words to the effect: 'Fuck off, you rapist.'" Marketing in "M": "I think it's important to get the 'troubadours' into the title. That's a 'buy-me' word." In "G": "Olga asked Allen Ginsberg if he was also buying Pound Conference T-shirts for his grandchildren. She was most lovable throughout." In "L": "Wyndham Lewis wrote 'Why don't you stop New Directions, your books are crap.'" And we find love in "L": "Cicero noted that an old love pinches like a crab." But in The Way It Wasn't James Laughlin's love of the crazy world and his crazier authors does not pinch a bit: it glows with wit and enlarges our feeling for the late great twentieth century.
"The Way It Wasn't...contains much tantalizing material....But the book needs more annotation and footnotes to aid the uninitiated of Modernism; even those who have some knowledge might be puzzled by an unexplained 'we' here and there." Los Angeles Times
"[W]onderful....The pages are printed on thick, glossy paper, and the spine is sturdily sewn; it's a beautiful book....Gossipy, funny, poignant, this book deserves to be avidly read and treasured by any lover of our literary heritage. Put it on your coffee table; give it a special place on the shelf. The Way It Wasn't
is a fabulous book. You'll visit it again and again." Chris Faatz, Powells.com
(read the entire Powells.com review
Lavishly illustrated, offers an intimate firsthand encounter with 20th-century Modernism, from the extraordinary man who defined it for America.
About the Author
Barbara Epler is Editor-in-Chief of New Directions.
Daniel Javitch (Mr. Laughlin's son-in-law) is a Professor at New York University.