Saturday, 29 July 2017
Nicholas Lezard, October 4004 BC – July 2017
Bishop Ussher calculated that the world began on 23 October 4004 BC. Somewhere between 5 billion years ago and then, anyway.
As I understand it, Nicholas Lezard is out of contract with the Guardian from the end of this month. Lezard has written a ‘paperback of the week’ column in the Guardian Review for the past, what? – 20? – 25 years? Neither his Guardian profile (‘Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian’) nor his (perfunctory) Wiki entry mentions the start date and this feels right, because for those of us who have been reading regularly, or just dipping in and out, it has just been there, a part of the world as we know it.
It’s very simple: allow an intelligent, widely-read, cricket-loving person to choose from among the books that thud through their door and enthuse about their choices regularly, weekly. (I do mean enthuse: Lezard doesn’t do hatchet-jobs, though god knows he must have been tempted.) No meetings, no marketing, no form-filling for grants. No faff about whether a book comes from Big People publishing or small presses, no faff at all. I have no idea why other journals haven’t copied. Except for the brain you need to start with, it’s a no-brainer: the newspaper has benefited (from a steadily increasing number of readers attracted to this column because they have learned to trust it); the sales of good writing have benefited; a good man has had enough cash in his pocket to buy his round.
And it has worked. Lezard’s last paperback-of-the-week column (here) has 70+ comments (it is now 'closed for comments'), many of those with multiple recommendations. There’s been something Reithian about the whole enterprise: people should be informed as well as entertained. I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that this column has changed lives.
(A woman I knew who died last year aged 101, mother ‘in service’, father illiterate, could recite whole poems. I’m fairly convinced that the most influential, life-enhancing book in the last century in the UK was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury – first published 1861 and then on and on, into the lives of people who might never otherwise have encountered the writing it celebrated. Week by week, without any pretension, without any dire ‘literature is good for you’ agenda, Lezard’s column has been performing a similar job.)
Disclosure of interest: Lezard has written about and recommended at least seven of the roughly 50 books I’ve published during the last decade. In 2011 I made a little shrine (above) to the patron saint of small presses in the street where he once lived. He has been the only broadsheet reviewer whose say-so has made any difference to sales. Without Lezard, I wouldn’t have continued to publish. I guess now that I’ll have to add an R.I.P. plaque.
Last week, the BBC reversed its decision to axe the Radio 4 Saturday Review programme (without which I would not be publishing J. O. Morgan). Can the Guardian do likewise for the Lezard column? If not, more fule they.