This collection of James Campbell's best columns from the TLS is a delightful guide to the literary absurdities of the past two decades.
For over twenty years James Campbell wrote the Times Literary Supplement's popular NB column, signing it as "J. C." The purpose of the initials was not to disguise the author, but to offer complete freedom to the persona. "J. C." was irreverent and whimsical. His column punctured pomposity, hypocrisy, and cant in the literary world—as one correspondent put it: "skewering contemporary absurdities, whether those resulting from identity politics or from academic jargon." Readers came to expect reports from the so-called Basement Labyrinth, where all executive decisions were made, and where an array of annual literary prizes were judged and administered. These included the Most Unoriginal Title Prize, for a new book bearing a title that had been used by several other authors (e.g., The Kindness of Strangers); the Incomprehensibility Prize, for impenetrable academic writing; and the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal.
James Campbell began writing for the TLS in 1980 and acted as an editor for thirty seven years. His substantial Introduction offers a history of the paper from birth through its precarious stages of adaptation and survival.
NB 2001 – 2006
Interlude: How It Was
NB 2007 – 2009
Interlude: Poor J.C.
NB 2010 – 2013
Interlude: The Murdoch Shilling
NB 2014 – 2017
Interlude: “Get on with it”
"The last unmissable proper diary column left in journalism."―Simon Jenkins
"The secret of J. C.’s weekly column is its unique mix of anonymity with intimacy: this 'stranger,' whom we meet over our morning coffee, is the most discreet and delightful of guides to what’s happening—good or mostly bad—in the literary world, with all its pretensions, follies, and occasional triumphs. I especially relished J. C.’s prizes—for the worst prose or the silliest blurb. Then again, leave it to J. C. to find the rare edition, the forgotten book of poems that deserves another look. True wit, coupled with wisdom: it’s the rarest of writerly feats."―Marjorie Perloff
"I receive immense pleasure from J. C.'s Times Literary Supplement columns. Sometimes more than pleasure: warmth, laughter, gratitude (especially when he is nailing academic unreadability) . . ."―Vivian Gornick
PRAISE FOR JAMES CAMPBELL'S OTHER BOOKS:
"A life-sized portrait in very broad strokes . . . A lively book that is immensely readable, serious, careful, and informed."―Boston Globe on Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin
"A marvelously illuminating literary biography . . . [and] an affectionate yet critical portrait."―Publishers Weekly on Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin
"This deftly written memoir . . . is the story of a writer finding his own voice."―The Wall Street Journal on Just Go Down to the Road
“Just Go Down to the Road brings an exciting time in world and literary history to life. It’s a remarkable travel account that began with the simple suggestion: 'Just go down to the road, Jim. You’ll get a lift .'"―Foreword Reviews on Just Go Down to the Road
"[A] brilliantly sympathetic and compelling analysis of the Beat phenomenon."―The Guardian on This Is the Beat Generation
"Campbell is simply one of the rare critics on whom, to cite Henry James, 'nothing is lost.'"―Marjorie Perloff on Syncopations
"A witty and insightful look at a fascinating, romantic land by a native son."―Library Journal on Invisible Country