There is a box file marked ‘Jenny Diski (Simmonds) School and other early’ next to my desk. It’s been sitting here for a couple of years, and, just as in childhood when I would flick through the contents to fill an hour on an empty Sunday, I’ve left it largely untouched. On those Sundays the thing that drew my attention was an onion-thin letter, worn with rereading, in which Doris Lessing offers my mum a room, and an alternative existence.
A book to mark the LRB’s 40th anniversary, compiled by Sam Kinchin-Smith, is published today by Faber. More scrapbook than festschrift, it traces an incomplete history of the paper through reproductions of letters, drawings, postcards, fieldnotes, typescripts and covers from the last four decades, introduced and contextualised by writers, editors and designers from the LRB’s past and present. To keep the book under two kilos, we could only include a couple of pages from most of the manuscripts. But there’s no weight limit online, so here are all 29 pages of Oliver Sacks’s typescript for ‘The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat’.
The LRB blog was launched in March 2009. Nearly ten years later, it was creaking at the seams and in need of an update – which, as you can see, we’ve now done. It doesn’t only look different – better, we think – but there have been various behind-the-scenes changes too (i.e. a complete overhaul) so it should all work more smoothly.
Short fiction isn’t really something that the LRB publishes, except when it does. In the latest issue, for example, there’s a 274-word work by Diane Williams, the 99th item that we’ve tagged in our online archive as a story, though it could just as well be categorised as prose poetry. The same goes for Anne Carson’s ‘Euripides to the Audience’ (2002). In 1980 we carried an extract from an unpublished play by Noël Coward.
Perhaps we have only ourselves to blame. By awarding last year’s top prize to an underwater entry, and then publishing a watery cover one week into the contest, we were asking for it. There have been an unprecedented number of entries to this year’s #readeverywhere competition that feature pools, streams, rivers, lakes and seas. These readers seem to be forgetting something important: the London Review of Books isn’t waterproof.
It’s July, which means #readeverywhere is back. Enter our annual photo contest by taking a picture of yourself, or somebody else, reading the London Review of Books or the Paris Review in a scenic/dramatic/eccentric/perilous etc. setting, to be in with a chance of winning one of 30 expensive-smelling prizes from Aesop. Post your photograph on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook before the end of August, using the #readeverywhere hashtag (and don't forget to tag us). We’ll be reposting our favourite entries throughout the summer, as well as reminders of the real point of #readeverywhere, which is that for two months only, you can subscribe to both the LRB and the Paris Review for one low price, anywhere in the world. (The offer unfortunately isn't available to existing subscribers. We're really sorry.)
‘I like to write about books that give me pleasure,’ Angela Carter wrote in her preface to Expletives Deleted, the collection of her journalism published posthumously in 1992. ‘I also like to argue,’ she said. ‘A day without argument is like an egg without salt.’ Between 1980 and 1991, Carter wrote some of her finest literary tributes for the LRB: Grace Paley, Colette, Christina Stead, Iain Sinclair. But the pieces that really leap at you from the archive are three from the middle 1980s about food and foodies or, as Carter called it, ‘conspicuous gluttony’ and ‘piggery triumphant’, and how ‘genuinely decadent’ she found the foodie search for the perfect melon, ‘as if it were a piece of the True Cross’.
This year’s #readeverywhere competition was dominated by babies, cats and mountains, so perhaps it was inevitable that the winners would buck all three trends. Congratulations to the three runners-up:
The first LRB Diary – A.J.P. Taylor on nuclear disarmament – was published on 4 March 1982. It ‘inaugurates a regular feature of the paper', Taylor's contributor's note explained. 'The Diaries will be by various hands. Clive James’s will scan.’ Since then there have been more than 800 Diaries on close to 800 subjects, many of them reporting from different parts of the world (few have scanned). Clicking on the image above will take you to an interactive map on which you can explore 100 of them.
We’ve reached the halfway point of our #readeverywhere photo contest (with the Paris Review), and as far as we’re aware everybody’s still in one piece. But in response to a couple of recent entries we feel compelled to remind entrants to take care. Here are five tips to help you #readeverywhere safely:
Julian Stallabrass wrote about selfies in the LRB in June 2014: It would be easy to slip into seeing the instantly shared photographic self-portrait, along with snaps of things bought and consumed, as a register of a complete surrender to commercial image culture:
From Hot Milk by Deborah Levy: I stood up and took my place behind the wheelchair, lifted up the brake, which was difficult because my espadrilles were flopping off my feet and began to push my mother down the dust road, dodging the potholes and dog shit, past the handbags and purses, the sweating cheeses and gnarled salamis, the jamón ibérico from Salamanca, the strings of chorizo, plastic tablecloths and mobile-phone covers, the chickens turning on a stainless-steel spit, the cherries, bruised apples, oranges and peppers, the couscous and turmeric heaped in baskets, the jars of harissa and preserved lemons, the torches, spanners, hammers, while Rose swatted the flies landing on her feet with a rolled-up copy of the London Review of Books.
Janette Taylor, a subscriber who makes paper beads, made this necklace out of the LRB.
There’s a new website of Peter Campbell’s work. You can see some of his more-than-400 LRB cover pictures there, along with many other illustrations, paintings and designs. The thematic galleries include ‘On Wheels’ (cars, trains, trams, vans and prams, although he never learned to drive) and ‘On the Menu’, flowers and birds, sketches of the smart set and more everyday characters: waiters, gardeners, barmaids and nurses at work and in their off-moments. The archive will continue to grow.
The summer isn’t (quite) over: you have until Monday to take out a joint subscription to the LRB and the Paris Review. And while you’re at it, there’s still time to enter our #readeverywhere photo competition.
Wherever you happen to find yourself this summer – in the middle of a saltmarsh or at the bottom of a kitchen garden or on the top of a bus – get someone to take a picture of you reading the LRB or the Paris Review, post it on social media with the hashtag #readeverywhere, and you'll have a chance to win an Astrohaus Freewrite smart typewriter, among other fabulous prizes. While you're waiting, take out a joint subscription to both magazines. No prizes for spotting literary allusions in blogposts though.
Karl Miller liked to quote a passage from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread And, having once turned round, walks onAnd turns no more his headBecause he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread. The passage was much better, he'd add, if you changed a word in the penultimate line. Take out 'fiend', replace it with 'friend'. Mark Boxer was a friend of Karl's; he was a friend of the LRB, too, and while he was no fiend, exactly, he was on the tail of his many friends, caricaturing them in his drawings, not always to their liking. He was the first editor of the Sunday Times colour supplement, as such publications were called back in the day, but the drawings are the lasting achievement.
From Zoë Heller's 1998 review of Bridget Jones' Diary (and two other novels in the same mould): Over the last ten years, in Britain and America, there has been a significant proliferation of a certain kind of feminine first-person narrative. The author is almost always a young(ish), single, middle-class woman, and the narrative a jaunty record of a frisky personal life... The feminine first-person narrative is unabashedly self-involved. It is knowing and urbane, but it is also showily neurotic and self-derogatory... Judging by the grim sameness of these three novels, the FFPN has already hardened into a new literary orthodoxy, a new correctness.
There's an exhibition of Peter Campbell's watercolours at City Gallery Wellington until 16 April. 'The exhibition brings together 36 paintings... acknowledging their other life – as images that exist before and beyond the relatively brief currency of the fortnightly review.'
For 33 years, all LRB subscriptions outside North America have been ‘fulfilled’ from our London offices. But from this week that will change. Our fulfilment software has come to the end of its useful life (it happens to us all, sooner or later) and there are no suitable subscription fulfilment products to replace it. So, from now on, subscribers will be cared for by data operators and customer service staff at an excellent company in Northampton, the fairly recently established UK subsidiary of the German firm DSB AG. The shutting down of our own system feels quietly momentous.
The late Alexander Cockburn in the LRB of 7 February 1991 on the perceived essential 'non-goodness' (Nixon) or 'non-badness' (Carter, Reagan, Bush) of American presidents, and the time he pulled Reagan's hair:
The LRB on the late Maurice Sendak:
I should have addressed the envelope to 'Lana Peters' at 280 Ladbroke Grove, but I didn't, and the package I sent out from the London Review's offices in the spring of 1992 was instead addressed to Svetlana Allilueva. Several days later, I heard that she was angry I'd used her better-known name. Worse, a story then appeared in the Evening Standard, which said that Stalin's daughter was living in a halfway house in Notting Hill. Had I helped blow her cover? I apologised. She asked me to tea.
Peter Campbell, the LRB’s resident designer and art critic, who wrote more than 300 pieces for the paper since almost its very first issue and painted or designed the covers, died this afternoon. His review of Rooms with a View: The Open Window in the 19th Century by Sabine Rewald will appear in the issue just gone to press.
From Playing the Game by Belle de Jour: jeudi, le 03 novembre Sigh. My boys love me, they do. And do they ever know what sets my tiny heart a-racing. The last two of my birthday gifts have finally come through: from A2, a gift voucher from Figleaves; from A4, a subscription to the London Review of Books.
In the introduction to an anthology of LRB pieces published in 2004, Frank Kermode wrote of the paper's origins: The Times and its satellites, most relevantly the TLS, had disappeared months beforehand – might, for all we knew, have ceased to exist – but time went by and nobody perceived its absence as an opportunity to replace it... The notion that a new journal might occupy the gap left by the TLS finally took hold. He didn't mention that the notion was first put forward in a piece he wrote for the Observer in June 1979, reproduced here.
Tony Judt was one of the speakers in the debate that followed the publication of John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt's piece on the Israel lobby in the LRB in 2006. You can (re)watch 'The Israel Lobby: Does it Have Too Much Influence on US Foreign Policy?' here.
'They laughed over the Harvardian eccentricities all around them. Visiting professors from the University of Oxford speaking with Oxford accents and publishing in the New York Review of Books, and American professors also speaking with Oxford accents but publishing in the London Review of Books.' – E.O. Wilson's Anthill.
The Sky News presenter Adam Boulton names his 'favourite hate figure' in the May issue of Total Politics: There's a classics don called Mary Beard. I think she's the worst kind of modern liberal. Or you could widen it to the London Review of Books.
Betsy Blair, a good friend of the London Review, whose charmed life was recently remembered in the New York Times’s 'The Lives They Led’, died last March. She once wrote a piece for the paper about informers, the FBI, the Hollywood blacklist and what you get when the FBI finally releases your file.
Earlier today Jill Butcher, who's in charge of marketing for the LRB, took part in Damien Hirst's identical twins installation, part of the Pop Life exhibition at Tate Modern.
Jerry Morris, a doctor and epidemiologist who established that bus conductors, in general, have longer lives than bus drivers, who was an authority on exercise and life expectancy, and who firmly believed in the importance of the public health service, died last week aged 99. From the Camden New Journal's obituary: To think of Jerry's life in terms of his immense contribution to public health overlooks his fanatical interest in culture. He read widely, a subscriber to the London Review of Books, the New York Review of Books, the New Yorker and the British Medical Journal. He was also an insomniac and would read two to three thrillers every week. Intelligent and racy reading may keep you and your heart going.
Forget Roger Federer's 15th grand slam; last week the LRB subscriptions team – Michael Coates, Morokoth Fournier des Corats, Karen Horan, Chris Larkin, Zuzana Minarikova and Stephen Pitchers – won a magazine industry pub quiz, seeing off competition from the likes of New Scientist, History Today, Dennis Publishing and Centaur Communications. The LRB got 10 out of 10 on the music round and 9 out of 10 for 'literature' (none of them knew that Rebecca Bloomwood was a character in Confessions of a Shopaholic), but slipped back when it came to identifying other magazines by their covers: they failed to recognise Zoo, the Grocer, Delicious, Condé Nast Traveller or Top Gear. Victory however was secured: they finished ahead, by a nail-biting margin of half a point. Go team.
Maybe editors should only ever be gratified, never startled, to come across a photograph of someone caught actually reading what they publish. Startled somewhat we were, however, by this image. A someone in camouflage and with an assault rifle to hand: not your average phantom subscriber. It is in fact a young officer in the British army serving in Afghanistan and he’s one of the illustrations in a newly published military memoir called The Junior Officers’ Reading Club, whose author, Patrick Hennessey, has now resigned from the army to become a lawyer. He helped start the club when he was in Iraq and then took it with him to Afghanistan.
From the Washington Post: He was a courtly State Department intelligence analyst from a prominent family who loved to sail and peruse the London Review of Books. Occasionally, he would voice frustration with U.S. policies, but to his liberal neighbors in Northwest D.C. it was nothing out of the ordinary. "We were all appalled by the Bush years," one said. What Walter Kendall Myers kept hidden, according to documents unsealed in court Friday, was a deep and long-standing anger toward his country, an anger that allegedly made him willing to spy for Cuba for three decades. "I have become so bitter these past few months.
From Alain de Botton's recent book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, on entrepreneurs: These individuals were writing their stories in a subgenre ofcontemporary fiction, the business plan, and populating them with characters endowed with deeply implausible personalities, an oversight which would eventually be punished not by a scathing review by some bright young person from the London Review of Books but by a lack of custom and a prompt foreclosure.