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Stranger in a Strange Land: Jon Pott

Bouncing Around

Editor's Note: This is a guest column by Jon Pott, who was the longtime editor-in-chief of the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

At a memorial gathering on August 20, 2005, on the detailed instructions of the honoree, the ashes of Hunter S. Thompson were shot skyward in a canister from a cannon atop a specially constructed 150-foot tower to explode, amidst fireworks and cheers, over the mountains of Owl Farm, Thompson's spread in Woody Creek, Colorado. In attendance, along with a number of locals, were Johnny Depp (who paid for the extravaganza), Jack Nicholson, and then-Senator John Kerry, a veteran of the Vietnam War who had turned critic against it. Thompson had taken a .45-caliber handgun to his head on February 20 of that year.

While doubtless the most manic and iconoclastic of the lot, Thompson is only one among the many writers and editors who bang around this bang-up publishing memoir by the shrewd and entrepreneurial editor who was also their friend. And Terry McDonell seems to have been up to their every rumbustious move.

It is something of a cliché among editors to say about themselves that they didn't so much intend a career in publishing as fall into it. And publishing certainly does, in that sense, have its share of accidental lives. But while he did enter his life of editing through the side door of photography and reporting, both of which served him well over his long editorial career, this is not the "accidental" life McDonell has in mind with the title of his book. It was his editorial life itself, once he was talked into it by a mentor friend, that kept so serendipitously changing on a ride through some of the glitziest and most influential magazines of recent decades, from San Francisco Magazine to Rolling Stone to Esquire to Sports Illustrated, with other stops along the bumpy, but enthralling, way:

It wasn't always easy. Ideas got broken and jobs didn't work out. Friends faded. Love failed. But the thing was, no matter how strange or rocky ...

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