A friend sent me an e-mail about this article, rightly so.
Garner on TLS and other things:
‘If you are a subscriber to the Times Literary Supplement, or TLS, that august literary review out of London, you know that its good, gray issues roll in every week, more quickly than it is possible to keep up.
Determined not to become a hoarder, Lydia Davis arrived at a solution to this abundance. In her 2014 book of stories, “Can’t and Won’t,” there is a cheerful piece called “How I Read as Quickly as Possible Through My Back Issues of the TLS.” Davis goes by topic:
the social value of altruism
the building of the Pont Neuf
the history of daguerreotypes
Not interested in:
a cultural history of the accordion in America.’
‘From 1997 to 2020, its golden age, the column was signed J.C. This correspondent has officially been outed as James Campbell, a biographer of James Baldwin and a longtime editor at the magazine. He was a good steward of the column, and his best material has been collected now in “NB by J.C.: A Walk Through the Times Literary Supplement.”
His NB was not a gossip column, Campbell explains. He hoped never to see the words “Martin” and “Amis” in proximity, and he mostly lived up to that vow. Instead, his droll NB skewered pomposity in its many forms.
He liked to bestow mock awards. He disliked academic gibberish, so he regularly handed out an Incomprehensibility Prize. He also invented and dispensed the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal (Sartre turned down the Nobel in 1964). New recipients seemed to surface every few months.’
‘He distrusted identity politics. “The subject of race in modern Britain is so delicate, so hedged about by hypocrisy and euphemism, so confused, that it has become impossible to talk about it in plain language,” he wrote. He tried to do so anyway.
He distrusted, as well, the culture of cancellation. He listed the foibles of many, many, many writers but arrived at the realization that “if you insist on judging writers by their personal behavior, you’ll be better off not reading at all.”’
‘He was interested in everything. When he needed material for a column, he would sometimes walk to a bookstore, buy something unusual and write about its contents. He made it work.
NB is the sort of column that people looked at and thought, “I could do that.” Turns out they couldn’t.’
Read the review here.
Preposterousness is mild compared to sheer pomposity.
And the phrase ‘if you insist on judging writers by their personal behavior, you’ll be better off not reading at all,’ summarizes most if not all debate on literature and cancel culture.