At Random: The Reminisces of Bennett Cerf

The world of three-hour lunches with authors and parties with New York's rich and famous comes to life in the autobiography of Bennett Cerf, one of the founders of Random House publishing. Definitely a must-read for any aspiring writer, editor, or publisher-- although, in many ways, the changing publishing industry no longer resembles the industry Cerf helped to build.

At Random is more a collection of delightful little anecdotes than a true autobiography. Cerf steers the focus away from his personal life (he mentions his wife only a handful of times, and usually in passing) and zeroes in on all his publishing adventures and mis-adventures. Most interesting is the number and variety of famous people he works and socializes with, including William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Ayn Rand, Frank Sinatra, FDR, George Gershwin, Truman Capote, J. Edgar Hoover, John O'Hara, and dozens more.

While Cerf's writing style is sometimes dated and he occasionally comes off as pompous or self-promoting (I probably would too, if I was so wildly successful!), I enjoyed this little book a lot more than I had expected to. It is almost a little fairy tale of publishing, equivalent to stories of courtly love and heroic knights-- times that are long gone, but remembered fondly.