Saturday, 1 January 2011
Patron saint of small presses
Here is a roadside shrine in W12 to St Nicholas Lezard, patron saint of small presses.
The ‘Nicholas Lezard’s Choice’ column in today’s Guardian praises Jack Robinson’s Days and Nights in W12: ‘This isn't just about W12 – it's about every urban space, including the one in your head’ (full review here; the online version attributes the book to myself, which is accurate if confusing, as it’s Jack’s name on the cover). This is the fourth CBe title to be featured in Lezard’s column in the past three-and-a-bit years. For the record, they are: Jennie Walker, 24 for 3 (now published by Bloomsbury); Gert Hofmann, Lichtenberg & The Little Flower Girl; Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking; and now Days and Nights. This has made a difference. For a press too small to get a handle on Amazon and Waterstone’s, too small to have a voice that can be heard above the general marketplace hubbub, it has made a BIG difference.
Lezard’s column is not a small-press ghetto, but in the past year alone, in addition to books from Penguin, Bloomsbury, OUP, etc, it has featured books published by: Dalkey Archive (‘one of the best little publishers in the world’: 4 December), Pushkin Press, Melville House, Peirene Press, Book Works, Serpent’s Tail, Short Books, Hesperus Press, Verso, Oneworld Classics, CB editions.
Why so many small publishers? Well, if you give an intelligent, open-minded (Lezard’s choices range across fiction, science, history, poetry . . .) critic a regular space to write about books they like enough to want to recommend to others; and put them under no pressure to review books because of the author’s fame or the publisher’s hype; and they have no special agenda (other than favouring good writing) and guard their independence (‘I demurred,’ Lezard wrote last June in the New Statesman about a certain temptation put his way, ‘not least on the grounds that accepting gifts – however unusual – and even getting to know authors before the review is published, is a big no-no as far as I am concerned’) – then this is what you get. No need for any ‘small is good’ special pleading. Because, as we know (but most lit eds seem not to), the number of good books coming from small, sometimes tiny, publishers is out of all proportion to their place in the established hierarchy.
Why aren’t there more spaces like this? It’s not a complicated recipe, and it works. For years before I started CBe I was buying books on Lezard’s say-so – many of them books I wouldn’t have known about otherwise – and I’ve never been disappointed.
I’m not at all sure that canonisation is something Lezard would welcome. But libations, yes. Maybe a goat. Vestal virgins have been ordered from Amazon but there are none in stock.