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Renata Adler Pens Book Review for Town & Country

The subject of her contempt this time is a new biography on Saul Steinberg, the legendary New Yorker cartoonist.

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CRANKY ADLER: Renata Adler hasn’t appeared in a magazine in years. One of the most famous New Yorker alums doesn’t need to, OK? She’s a legend. She can just stick to writing books about landmark Supreme Court decisions and never bother with a magazine ever again. She’ll only do a piece when something is so absolutely infuriating, she just has to bang out a corrosive takedown.

Her last two major pieces appear to have been on Jayson Blair, in American Spectator, and on the Starr Report, for Vanity Fair, in 2003 and 1998, respectively.

But, next month, Adler pops up in Town & Country, of all places, and the subject of her contempt this time is a new biography on Saul Steinberg, the legendary New Yorker cartoonist. Adler is famously protective of her New Yorker, the version that came out during her tenure there from the late Sixties to the late Eighties under legendary editor William Shawn. It was the subject of her book, “Gone.”

Not just anyone can write about that place. Deirdre Bair, the author of the new book who won a National Book Award for her Samuel Beckett biography, doesn’t even begin to meet Adler’s high standards. A biography on Steinberg is better left to “people with histories, minds, and imaginations comparable to his own,” Adler writes.

The rest of the review is characteristically devastating: “A genuine biography, accurate on its facts and true to the spirit of this major artist, will have to wait.”

How did Town & Country come to run a piece by Adler anyway? Executive editor Mark Rozzo said he had a hunch she’d be an interesting voice on a new biography of her old friend, and asked two Town & Country contributors, Alison Rose and Guy Trebay, to put in a word. When he finally reached out, it was one of those rare times when Adler was checking her e-mail.

Was he surprised she was displeased with the book?

“Renata can be notoriously hard to please,” he said. “We always knew that more than a straight-up review, what Renata would produce was a meditation on the meaning of Steinberg.”

Rozzo hopes Adler will write for the magazine again. There’s more classic Adler coming, too: In March, Random House is re-issuing “Speedboat” and “Pitch Dark.”