Even before he could read, Yale University Press director John Donatich said he loved books — the way they smelled, the way they looked and even the way they felt in his hands. Now, after a lifelong love affair with books and a career in publishing, Donatich at last has written a book of his own.
“I’ve been obsessed with books my whole life. So it’s great to be involved on both sides of the fence,” Donatich said.
His recently published book, “Ambivalence, a Love Story: Portrait of a Marriage,” is a memoir in which his wife’s pregnancy serves as a backdrop for him to explore the concept of marriage and the meaning of manhood. In the memoir, Donatich and his wife, Betsy Lerner, called B in the book, struggle with miscarriages, unemployment and her manic depression. Donatich said that his goal was to present the concept of ambivalence as a positive attitude of open-mindedness.
“Too many forces in our culture conspire to tell us how to feel,” he said, adding that he feels it is important to cry out against this set mentality.
Lerner said her husband wanted to explore the role of the father and what it’s like to be a man in contemporary society.
“He wanted to challenge the idea of man being certain,” Lerner said.
“Ambivalence” has been receiving a good deal of media attention since it was published in January, and was reviewed in both The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. When asked the reason for such attention, Donatich said that the moment is right for men to start talking about the relationship issues he explores.
“It’s rare for a book by a man to be so intimate,” Lerner said.
“Ambivalence” began as Donatich’s personal journal and was eventually pieced together into a book. Although the facts in the book are true, Donatich said, it is “more a thing of imagination than even a memoir.”
Lerner said “Ambivalence” is a completely honest portrayal of their marriage, and her own character — a wife who had to give up her anti-depression drugs during difficult pregnancies — is accurately portrayed. Lerner, a literary agent and writer, wrote the memoir “Food and Loathing,” which recounts her history of manic-depression.
If she had not “outed” herself as a person dealing with depression, Lerner said, it would have been nearly impossible for Donatich to reveal as much as he did in his memoir.
Donatich said he was pleased with the Los Angeles Times review, which complimented his prose in the book, as well as the unique questions it poses. He said, however, that The New York Times reviewed him as a person instead of the book. The review commented that he was too much in love with his wife to be truly ambivalent.
“It was inappropriate,” Donatich said.
Lerner said that she was proud of her husband and happy with the book. From a marketing standpoint, she said she believes the press is interested in part due to the beautiful book jacket and intriguing title.
“It is exciting and encouraging to receive major attention,” Lerner said.
Donatich took up the position of director of the Yale University Press in 2003, coming from Basic Books.
Janyce Siress, a development associate at the press, said he has made some positive changes there.
“He is intelligent, warm and very easy to work for,” she said, adding that everyone at the press is excited about his new book.
As an experienced publisher, Donatich said that he was hard editorially on himself as an author.
“It is a sensitizing experience to be at the mercy of a publisher,” he noted.
The Yale University Press publishes mostly scholarly work of serious non-fiction, so there was no possibility of the press publishing Donatich’s book.
Currently, Donatich is busy doing book signings and readings. A few strangers, he said, have offered their own stories about marriage when they meet him.
And though a memoir about a marriage could potentially put strain on the relationship, Lerner said she believes the book is like a love letter to her.
“I’m trying to live up to the character he wrote about,” she said.