MATTHEW SPECKTOR: The Paris Review may be the greatest living archive in American letters. And there’s always the temptation to see it that way — as an “archive” — but it seems that since you became its editor in 2010, the institution is more vital than ever. Not just the magazine, but its web presence, The Paris Review Daily, the new app, etc. I’m curious how you balance these newer aspects with the more traditional ones of the magazine.
LORIN STEIN: Well, The Paris Review wears its DNA on its sleeve, if that metaphor makes sense. The tradition of discovering new writers makes it easy to go out and find stuff that excites me, and at the same time feels of a piece with the history. As it happens, that was true at my last job, too, at Farrar, Straus. In both cases, because the founders stuck around for so long, and because there was so much continuity, paradoxically, it was easy for a newcomer to adopt the spirit of the institution. In a sense, it would be harder to make The Paris Review stodgy than to maintain the tradition of discovery.
MS: And yet, it could be done. If you put your mind to it. What I’m getting at is, it’s difficult to imagine George Plimpton firing up a blog. And yet, you’ve done it in a way that feels perfectly natural. The content of The Paris Review Daily is completely different, and yet consonant with the magazine.
LS: To me it’s like that line in the great Italian novel, Lampedusa’s The Leopard. If you want things to stay the same, everything’s going to have to change. Nowadays we have to exist in the digital world if we don’t want to be strictly of the digital world. So we sell our subscriptions online, we run what in effect is a gazette that shows what we’re thinking about, and what the writers around us are thinking about. It’s essential for us to have an app, too. Especially one that lets readers abroad subscribe to us cheaply and easily. But also in this country, because we owe it to our writers to find them readers and so many good readers now seem to prefer gizmos to ink on paper.
MS: Well, those gizmos are things that we’re friendly with here at the Los Angeles Review of Books as well, being an online periodical busy making our own strides in that direction. I saw you speak once at Book Soup and you used an interesting analogy, in which you likened digital reading to the advent of the sliding door. Do you remember that?
LS: Yeah, that comes from Ryszard Kapuscinski, the wonderful Polish writer. He pointed out that for a long time the sliding door has been the “door of the future,” but when you get down to it, the old door has certain advantages.
MS: So that’s how you feel about e-readers? That they’re useful and modern, but that the old standard isn’t exactly on the way out?
LS: Exactly. I can’t help thinking that for the kind of stuff we publish, the preferable technology is paper. Of course there are times when it’s handy to be able to read a thing on your telephone. I was once able to sign up a short story by David Gates in record time because I received it on my brand new iPhone. I was sitting in a bar on a Saturday night, and I was able to prove my enthusiasm by writing back in 10 minutes. Th...read more