Review: “An Old Junker: a senior represents” by Howard Junker

by Rio Liang

I was quite fascinated by Howard Junker’s “An Old Junker: a senior represents.” The retired ZYZZYVA editor has pieced together in not haphazard ways a nonfiction novel out of blog posts he’d written during the five-year period of 2006-2010. The end result is, at the risk of my sounding momentarily hipsterish, quite entertaining “bricolage.”

Reordered into more digestible groupings–a rearrangement akin to a library classification system–Junker’s blog entries provide a “representation” of the author as a well-networked (watch for mentions of Sherman Alexie, Candice Bergen, Miranda July, and Danielle Steel, among others) and astute man of letters; a historian of sorts (he provides some interesting reminiscences on various literary figures); and of course as the no-nonsense and self-acknowledged obnoxious editor he is well-known for (he is blunt in his assessments of notable figures like Dave Eggers, Stephen Elliott, Jonathan Lethem, and Michael Pollan, to name a few).

The book is most interesting when it delves into the editor’s life and the world of literary magazine publishing. As a man who’s seen the industry evolve from drafting tables to desktop publishing, Junker offers very intriguing takes on editors-as-teachers and self-publishing editors. He bemoans the lit mag business, often in surprisingly funny ways (read his very witty “lMag“).

There are throwaway entries here and there that one might bypass; and as with diaries, the question of “Who cares?” often surfaces (for example, some of the dining-related entries feel like “fillers,” as it were). But Junker’s is a well-written “diary” and a worthwhile read, with each entry expertly written with an editor’s sharpness and concision.

In a blog post about former Paris Review editor George Plimpton, whom Junker regards as a hero, the author describes being “in favor of anything that fleshes out the editorial identity.” Junker himself has done that here, showcasing a man whose various–often strongly worded–views on art, literature, and life combine to define a singular editor.

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