Dan Frank had a couple of small jobs before he became an editor at Viking.
“I was really lucky. I got there just about the time Penguin purchased Viking. There were great editors at Viking – like Cork Smith. He was a real Pynchon enthusiast and he had such a good editorial eye. And Alan Williams. Quality history.
“With the Penguin/Viking combination, they were pushing some of these fine editors out, but I got to see their work”
Dan talked about the editorial eye. “It’s completely grounded in the individual’s interests as well as his curiosity and urge to push on for more. You’re thinking ‘I want to know more about this,’ but it’s really your familiarity with the subject that allows you to recognize something you haven’t seen expressed that way before. You’re reading, and you say, ‘Oh my god! I’ve never read a book like this.’ And that’s what you want to publish.
“For example, here’s someone who is looking at Einstein as a man who is thinking as dreaming.”
Is that real, I interrupt Dan. “Yes. Einstein’s Dreams, Alan Lightman.
“An important aspect of the editorial eye is that it’s shaped by your early encounters with reading – your earliest sense that what you’re reading is entirely different from what you’ve read or thought before.”
So what is Dan Frank’s eye exactly? What does he want to publish?
“I want to find books that are still going to be read 40 years from now. I’m not as interested in the first 6 weeks of a books life as I am in the next few decades. I want books that offer writing and concept that isn’t dated. There is this thing that rarely gets talked about in publishing – the truly great authors that may or may not have been a success in their time.”
Dan Frank’s editorial eye has far reaching vision. He wants to publish books whose greatest success may come beyond our time.
“Of course your employer wants you to find books that will sell – will make money now. That has to be one criterion in the selection. But consideration of the book market today need not be the dominant criterion. At Pantheon, we’re allowed to be quite idiosyncratic. We make money on Alexander McCall Smith and on the high quality back list. We’ve been publishing books for the future all along.”
I wonder about some of the authors that Dan Frank most likes. He spins out a few of his favorites.
“David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous. It’s a book of natural philosophy, about how language comes out of human experience with the earth. Abram has a lot to say and he says it his way. Sometimes he takes my suggestions but other times he doesn’t want to make my changes. This book speaks to many. He has become hugely influential in the environmental movement.”
“Richard Holmes is a big biographer of romantic poets. He’s written a wonderful book, Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer. He writes about what a biographer does – about how he excavates his subject. Holmes, the writer, is taking you on a tour of his own workshop in a way. He shows you how it’s done, what interests him, how the research works.”
“Joseph Mitchell. Great writer. He wrote in the 30s, 40s and 50s. McSorley’s Wonderful Saloon. The Bottom of the Harbor. Up in the Old Hotel. I convinced him to let me reprint his essays. He wanted it done a particular way. He wanted everything in one volume.”
Dan Frank has lots more favorites. He sparkles with enthusiasm for authors, for books, for publishing, for reading. His enthusiasm is quite contagious.