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This article is taken from PN Review 266, Volume 48 Number 6, July - August 2022.

from NB by JC
A walk through the Times Literary Supplement
James Campbell
March 23, 2001

Anyone nursing a rejection slip is likely to feel better after perusing the current issue of the Missouri Review. The latest in its ‘Found Text’ series is a feature on readers’ reports from the archives of the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. The list of rejectees is spectacular, and the comments are frank. In 1949, for example, a reader recommended turning down a collection of stories by Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph, with the comment ‘they are utterly untranslatable, at least into anything that could be expected to sell more than 750 copies’. The reader himself found the stories ‘remarkable’, but thought they would appear to the general public as ‘$50-a-pound caviar’. El Aleph would not be translated for another twenty-one years.

Anaïs Nin was felt to be ‘a small, arbitrary, overpraised talent who has been able to hide her emptiness behind a lot of chinoiserie’, and A Spy in the House of Love, later a Penguin Classic, was kicked out. In 1953, the young Peter Matthiessen submitted ‘a very bad novel’ called Signs of Winter. ‘We had great hopes for this guy’, sighed the reader, before stamping ‘REJECT’. The title has never seen the light of day. Two years later, Knopf saw off Italo Calvino, with reluctance, and the young James Baldwin, without it. Giovanni’s Room merited extended comment, as Baldwin had published a promising debut novel with the firm in 1953. The novel seemed to the first reader ‘an unhappy, talented, and repellent book’, to the second ‘a bleak little tale’, and to the third ‘hopelessly ...


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