I know some smart guys and some down-to-earth guys and some well-read guys and some politically astute and committed guys, but very few guys who are all of those things, and Robert Birnbaum is: he’s one of those invaluable voices out there fighting the good fight and keeping reading and thinking alive. He’s one of the our most incisive and important interviewers.
There’s something drastically wrong with Robert Birnbaum.
He takes literature seriously, but he isn’t self-important about it. He spends his time talking to other writers and asking intelligent questions, and – even worse – he reads their books before he talks to them. He’s no literary theory robot; he encounters books with his own mind and heart, and he thinks this is an important thing to do with his life. I mean, he’s just begging for trouble.
Part Malcolm Cowley, part Terry Gross, some Charlie Rose mixed in for good measure, Robert Birnbaum is a gift to literature. He cares about books that matter and conducts conversations that make a mark. This is a rare and beautiful thing. I wish we’d finally master cloning because we could use more of him in the world.
“I never know quite what book I have written till I talk to Robert Birnbaum about it. Some people do ‘close reading.’ His can be as interior as Vermeer, as sweeping as the Hubble eye. We all count on him. He helps us see.”
I don’t live in Boston, so I am not among the “Our” who get to claim Robert as their own. Yet once every few years, when I am in town whoring for one book or another, he is My Man in Boston, if only for an hour. And it is always the most delicious, cracked-up, dressed-down, battery-charging hour. Robert is a reminder that the deeper, grander pursuits of our culture — art, polemics, fine essay — are all around and ever worth stopping for. May I confess to you? I love him madly.
Thank God for Robert Birnbaum.
Whenever I talk with Robert Birnbaum I get the feeling that he sees me more clearly than just about anybody. Astonishingly, he doesn’t appear to blame me for an of it, which is why he’s My Man in Boston. If you love books, he should be yours, too.
Me personally I think Our Man in Boston is better than a stick in the eye. There’s just no question about this, I feel. I think people who think Our Man in Boston is not as good as a stick in the eye are not reading Our Man in Boston at all, or have what we call in the Catholic world a fecking enormous beam of timber in the old orbital socket. Trust me on this one. I have read a lot of muck in my lifetime – I mean, I read all of Jerzy Kosinsky, before I recovered – and Our Man in Boston is just not, no matter what anyone says, muck. Trust me.
An interviewer with personality, curiosity, and no fear — clearly Birnbaum will never make it in the big time. Glad he’s on my radar screen, though.
George. We knew that. For years. And now the timeless Birnbaum conversations come to roost in a better, at least a more appropriate, place. About time.Read them all. Start anywhere. [This assumes Robert will get on the stick and give us some links…] Doing so will pay big dividends. Literati will be enthralled. Izzy [Robert is merely his nom d’émigré] will feel even more important (and more significantly will get that frisson he so seldom gets, as when he’s accorded respect) because someone paid attention. But most importantly, saying all this will help keep Izzy off my back, and make him continue to owe me big time.There are a lot of conversations, silently (well, I speak figuratively), slowly accreted into a different sort of literary treasure, ready to be re-re-discovered, again and again. You may end up thinking, “Robert Birnbaum spreads himself too thin.” But there’s a lot of him to spread. I speak, of course, literarily and culturally: I’ll withhold judgment on the intellectual, until he shows a little more serious intent with the copy editing. There’s always more of what we love Robert for—never shutting up. Hail to a major repository of the national cultural treasure of his 25+ years worth of conversations with noteworthy authors. As a conversationalist, James Lipton, of a different era and cultural medium, has nothing on Robert—and Robert is younger, cuter, and available.
Robert Birnbaum is a great guy, an incisive interviewer, and a true dog-lover, whose only defect lies in rooting for the wrong baseball team.