on Adam Levin
I first met Adam Levin while on tour with Salvador Plascencia. Sal and Adam had gone to school together, and Sal and I (and Paul La Farge) needed a place to stay in Chicago, and Adam had a couch and a floor. I think Sal mentioned to me that Adam was working on a massive book, four years in the making, really amazing and almost finished. Four years after that, the manuscript finally showed up in my inbox. Eighteen months after that, I’m thrilled to watch it — The Instructions, a novel — finally enter the world.
During those eighteen months, we worked closely together. I tried to give Adam advice about his book. He tried to give me advice about girls. My advice has had more tangible effects so far, I guess, but his advice was delivered in a much nicer tone of voice. I didn’t always use a nice tone of voice, I’m ashamed to admit. One time I compared the book to “Muppet Babies.” (I think I was trying a tough-love approach.) That was wrong of me.
But I knew Adam could take it — I knew he wanted to do whatever was necessary to make the book all it could be, and I just wanted to honor his many years of ferocious labor. Any time I felt myself starting to get lazy, I remembered that he was working much, much harder. Sometimes I’d circle a sentence and write “sharpen?”, which I mean as “this sentence is fine but maybe could be better but I don’t know how,” and then the next day I’d learn he spent the past nine hours attempting to rewrite the sentence. I felt kind of guilty about that — but days like that, thousands of them, are what made The Instructions the amazing creation that it is.
Writing this book has ravaged Adam’s back and his stomach. Writing this book drove him to a strangely close relationship with a pet parrot. Writing this book required a four-pack-a-day smoking habit. But I have to believe it was all necessary, and so I believe it was all worth it — because this book, it really is something.
And get this: Adam always claimed he was going to quit smoking as soon as we finished editing the book. I never believed him, of course — but the day we approved the final proofs, he smoked his last cigarette, and here we are two months later, so far so good. It’s not yet clear how this will affect his future writing — but maybe one masterpiece is enough for now.
Eli Horowitz is managing editor and publisher of McSweeney’s. Lucky guy.
Posted in Editors Speak