Ms. Walther, meanwhile, took on additional editorial duties and pretty soon was running the imprint as a de facto editor in chief. Within the Knopf group, Mr. Asher’s absence was discussed, but only in whispers. Some were under the impression that Ms. Walther was there to stay, and others, including Mr. Asher’s assistant (the one who did not go on a Fulbright), did not know what was going to happen or whether the changes in leadership enacted since February were temporary or permanent.
That might be because there was nothing to know. Though some within Knopf may have jumped to conclusions a few months back, Pub Crawl could find no evidence to suggest that Mr. Asher himself knew what he was going to do with his career until a few weeks ago. He discussed a few possible arrangements with Mr. Mehta over the course of several conversations, and it is unknown whether coming back as editor in chief– that is, picking up where he left off instead of changing his job description– was among them.
By last week, Mr. Asher had definitely decided to leave Vintage, and Knopf publicity director Paul Bogaards asked him over the phone to compose a public statement addressing his choice. Mr. Bogaards got two sentences out of the press-shy Mr. Asher: "I will miss the day-to-day interaction with my Vintage Anchor family. At the same time, I am thrilled to be working with the best hardcover team in publishing." Mr. Bogaards passed on the comments to reporters on Monday.
It’s unclear what, if anything, will change about the way Vintage Anchor is run or the books it produces now that Ms. Walther is officially in charge as editorial director. One change already in effect, however, is that unlike Mr. Asher, who reported directly to Mr. Mehta, Ms. Walther is reporting to the publisher, Ms. Messitte. In light of this, it seems likely that Ms. Messitte, who served alongside Mr. Asher as publisher for more than a decade, could enjoy more control over the imprint than she did when Mr. Asher was around.
Jason Epstein, who founded Vintage in 1953, was stunned by Mr. Asher’s resignation on Monday. "It’s a real blow to Random House," he said. "It’s a real loss, I think. He was one of a kind. It’s a hard thing to keep that list up, to keep it interesting. And he did it. He’s a very even-tempered guy. He never gets excited-he does his work and goes home. He was just what you wanted."
Ecco publisher Dan Halpern, meanwhile, said in an e-mail that Mr. Asher is "one of the true visionaries in our business." He added: "His taste and intuition to find books that matter is not unlike the abilities of Tiger Woods on a good day, reading the green to find the true path on the 18th hole to the waiting drop."
Neither Mr. Asher, Ms. Messitte, nor Ms. Walther responded to repeated requests for comment.