Diana Athill, March 23, 1965

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NORMAN MAILER’s Letters
142 Columbia Heights
Brooklyn 1, New York
March 23, 1965

Dear Diana,

Just a quick note. Our letters keep seeming to cross in the mail, and doubtless will again. What I’m curious about and what I’d like to know more of is what ideas you and Andre have about my showing up in London. I think it would be a mistake to repeat the thing we did last time with Advertisements. We had something like four or five television or radio shows packed into a few days, a mass press conference which produced no news whatsoever, and in general I ran around like a whore after a hot buck and probably sold fifty copies. In this country I’ve noticed that the same thing results, with the exception of anomalies like Alexander King.[1] Going on television does not sell books—in fact I have a feeling it tends to hinder the sale of books. So long as an author remains a bit of a mystery and a touch inaccessible the reader must enter the pages of his work in order to satisfy his curiosity. Seeing a man on television is all too likely to produce the thought, “Oh well, he’s not so different from you or me.”

On this novel I’ve done no television here at all, no radio, just a few interviews and one press conference, yet the literary publicity has been intense, front page reviews, etc., and the book looks off to a good start. So this is what I would propose: if my presence in London is going to do any good I think we must try to disarm the literary establishment. Perhaps we can have a few slick interviews with first-rank intellectuals who are very hostile to my work but who would on general reputation give me a fair show. Or perhaps an open debate in Festival Hall or some place much smaller and much more suitable with some bright blade from The New Statesman or wherever, who detests An American Dream and would like the chance to cut me up in public. I think a packed house of that sort, even if it were five hundred people would give the novel its real and best kind of publicity, which is intensive talk in the parlors and the salons. (Incidentally, in an open public debate I don’t give bloody bugs if the debater is a dirty fellow—it’s just that he’s got to be formidable or there’s no real action.) That, and if it’s possible, a smasher of a party where we try to out-Weidenfeld George—admittedly an impossible task—is my idea of what to do.[2] I don’t want under any circumstances, I repeat, to go in for a killing round of stupid empty television appearances in which I’m supposed to come in like a prize bull and stamp my foot. Now, Diana, most simply, if that isn’t agreeable to you and to Andre, then I’d really rather not come this trip, for there are many things to do here, including a new book to get started, and these excursions, while they could not be more enjoyable, nevertheless eat up the weeks. So let me know. But please let me know quickly.

Incidentally I have a man who could set up a debate of the sort I propose so if the promotional aspects are bothersome, let me know about that too.

As for the jacket, I’ll fulminate no more until I see you, except to say that your letter is a touch ingenuous Diana. The artist says that he was trying to draw Rojack, and who, my pet, do you think most people think Rojack is supposed to be—Albert Einstein?

Yours ever and forever,
Norman
This page is part of
An American Dream Expanded.

Notes

  1. Alexander King was a humorous writer and raconteur who appeared regularly on television talk shows.
  2. George Weidenfeld was a British publisher. Weidenfeld and Nicolson succeeded Andre Deutsch as Mailer’s British publisher in 1967 and published five of his books through 1971.