Lorin Stein, critic and editor, on his default setting – reading – and why he’s more committed to ‘The Paris Review’ than ever.
Tucked away in a corner of Albertine bookshop in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Lorin Stein wears his standard uniform of tailored shirt (from Miller’s Oath in the West Village) with the sleeves rolled up and tie. Combined with oversized glasses, he emanates an air of bookishness and the hint of a bygone age. It’s exactly how the editor of The Paris Review – the US’s eminent quarterly dedicated largely to literary fiction and poetry – might wish to be described.
“I love to read in public spaces that give privacy but are not completely secluded,” says Stein in his considered manner, nestling into one of the leather sofas.
Albertine specialises in Francophone works and is housed in the French consular building – it also occupies a special place for Stein. It was his friend Antonin Baudry, the eccentric former French cultural counsellor in New York (and currently the magazine’s Paris editor), who convinced the French government not to sell their grandiose beaux arts mansion by telling them he’d throw open its doors to the public with a bookshop. “This was why I was so impressed with him,” says Stein. “Although he’d only just got to New York he understood that if you own a McKim, Mead & White townhouse in Manhattan you do not sell it for love nor money.”
It’s clear that a great mind is a powerful elixir to Stein, whether it belongs to a friend or a new writer discovered from poring over manuscripts. So it should come as no surprise that the editor – only the Review’s third since it was founded in 1953 – should seek out corners of the city in which to read. “If you stop reading for pleasure it’s very hard to do your reading for work,” he says. “Because reading for pleasure is what we’re selling – not information or reviews – so you’d better know what that feels like.”
Stein says that reading has always been his “default setting” but it is not the only thing that occupies his thoughts. He recently oversaw the launch of a podcast and the revival of the Review’s publishing arm, Paris Review Editions. Add what he refers to as “moonlighting” for publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux, and translating books from French, and it’s easy to see why holing up somewhere with a book is something to appreciate.
While Stein says he took The Paris Review job to better understand mediums he had “grown to suspect”, he believes that short fiction and poetry are “better and stranger” than a decade ago, aided by the political environment. He confesses that it’s only now that he’s fully getting to grips with what the Review should publish; he no longer worries about what the magazine needs to “be” and instead focuses on printing what he’d like to read. “I feel more comfortable in the job and more committed to it than when I started. That sounds like bullshit but it happens to be true.”
1976 Born in Washington
1995 Graduates from Yale. Studies a master’s degree in English at Johns Hopkins University the following year
1998 Joins Farrar, Straus and Giroux (fsg)
2010 Leaves fsg to become editor of The Paris Review
2016 Becomes editor at large at fsg alongside the Review