James Wood: ‘I Won’t Go Soft’ at The New Yorker

“I have no intention of going soft,” said Mr. Wood. “I intend to be a critic, which means, as Eliot once put it, ‘the elucidation of texts and the correction of taste.’ If I annoy people who publish stories or who have extracts published in The New Yorker, that will be the editor’s problem, not mine! After all, it’ll be him they complain to, not me.”

“I don’t expect him at all to change as a writer,” Mr. Remnick said. “I’m hiring him for him.”

Mr. Wieseltier did not want to speculate about whether the New Yorker editor would keep his word. He pointed, instead, to remarks Mr. Remnick made in The New York Times when news of Mr. Wood’s move first broke. At that time, Mr. Remnick said that Mr. Wood was not a “slam artist,” and that despite what people say about him, he is “also capable of passionate praise.”

“When he keeps insisting on James’ ability to praise,” Mr. Wieseltier said, “David is apologizing for one of James’ greatest strengths.”

In his first year as a staff writer for The New Yorker—Mr. Remnick said he expects the contract “will be re-upped and re-upped ad infinitum”—Mr. Wood will publish five or six long pieces totaling about 5,000 words and five or six shorter ones at 2,500. Mr. Remnick said Mr. Wood’s reviews will be edited by books editor Henry Finder, though he will be free to branch out to other kinds of writing—essays and reported pieces—if the fancy ever strikes him.

Mr. Wood is the second star writer to leave TNR for The New Yorker in recent months. Political reporter Ryan Lizza, who had been a TNR loyalist ever since he interned there as a young man, has just moved into an office in The New Yorker’s D.C. bureau, where he will serve as Washington correspondent.

Asked to comment on the two departures, TNR editor Franklin Foer replied, “They don’t raid your talent if you suck.”

Referring to the budget of The New Yorker, Mr. Wieseltier said, “It’s pointless to be angry at rich people for shopping.”

James Wood: ‘I Won’t Go Soft’ at The New Yorker