on 28 July 1998
Writing in the New York Times Book Review, James Shapiro, professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University, says, "The passage of time has dimmed the reputation of 'The Naked and the Dead,' but time has also cleared the way to a finer appreciation of what to my mind is one of the most daring works of the postwar years, 'Advertisements for Myself' (1959), required reading for any aspiring novelist." He goes on to say, parenthetically, "The sad fact that it is currently in print only because Harvard University Press picked up the lapsed rights says a lot about the state of contemporary trade publishing."
Now that Mailer, Capote and even Vidal are gone I suppose there must be quite a ruckus in Heaven since the three had a real talent for arguing, squabbling even, as anyone who has seen Norm on Dick Cavett knows, especially when he nutted Vidal in an ad. break, well described in this book's 'companion' the equally lively 'Pieces'. Norman really could write, of course, he nailed the 1950's well and spotted the lineaments of the next, first truly Postwar decade, with his modish notions like 'The White Negro' and his sketches on the nature and fate of masculinity. Of course writers even this late seem dated to us, to use MacLuhan's distinction improperly: Mailer no longer looks cool but hot, he looks like your Dad dancing - or indeed taking dope: when told by Roy Plomley he couldn't have any of 'the finest grass' for his Desert Island I guffawed when he said, plaintively "There I go, in trouble again." At best he was a superlative journalist and it is likely by this book and 'Pieces', by 'Armies of the Night' and 'The Executioner's Song' that he will be remembered, not the novels. There's his inimitable showing on the film 'Town Bloody Hall' too where he crosses swords with a young Germaine Greer, Diana Trilling and others as well as the entire audience. A terrific read, great fun; more pugnacious than Christopher Hitchens and in some ways his precursor as a gadfly, The Hitch is one way one can date him and Gore as he is demonstrably 'later' , despite the younger man's predeceasing him. Intelligent, ambitious and provocative, this book is a great introduction to a very American type, the intellectual self-advertiser rampant. Very much a madeleine for fast changing times and a reminder that for all their complaints about American philistisinism, he and his contemporaries' fame showed that Americans care more for the life of the mind than they and we commonly admit; they always have.