Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Here's a reason to be cheerful. The new literary magazine Sonofabook is launched today and will appear twice a year, each issue under the auspices of a different editor. The first is the publisher himself, Charles Boyle. 

Before going on I should make a Declaration of Interest, as I have a piece in the debut number about Herman Melville and the elusive hyphen in Moby-Dick, the title of the book in which Moby Dick (without a hyphen) occasionally surfaces. I'm delighted and honoured to appear in Sonofabook, and even more delighted and honoured that CB editions will, later this year, publish About a Girl, my monograph on Eimear McBride. Having said all of which I'd be writing what follows regardless of any connection to the firm, because CB editions is unquestionably a Very Good Thing.

 I first met the publisher (who runs the outfit single-handedly, or does so much of the time) at the Poetry Book Fair in 2013, and we fell into conversation about Dai Vaughan, who had recently died and whose posthumous slim volume of poems Charles had published, along with a novel, Sister of the Artist

I happened at the time to be writing Vaughan's entry for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. He wrote my single favourite book about cinema, Portrait of an Invisible Man. This is a biography - but much more than a biography - of the film editor Stewart McAllister, a troubled genius who worked with the great Humphrey Jennings on a handful of wartime documentaries including, famously, Listen to Britain. It's an extraordinarily moving and beautifully written meditation on the nature and art of editing, was published in by the BFI many years ago and should be republished and remain in print forever. There's no better book on the strange and enduring allure of film.

Following that meeting I started to read many of the books published by CB editions and soon realised that it was the most exciting and unpredictable list of authors I'd come across since my discovery of Calder Books back in the 1970s (and some of you reading this will know what I mean). Poetry is a particular strength of CB editions - J. O. Morgan. Andrew Elliott, Dan O'Brien and others -  but there's also startling prose from David Markson, Will Eaves, May-Lan Tan (whose debut Things to Make and Break I reviewed for the TLS) and the great, very great Agata Kristof. If you haven't read Kristof's The Notebook you're in for a beneficial shock. Few books have made a more enduring impression on my waking hours, and my dreams.

What links all these and other writers living and dead - including Apollinaire and Francis Ponge, two French favourites in wonderful bilingual editions - is the terrific taste of the publisher, which is wide-ranging, generous and admirably, bracingly, refreshingly, breathtakingly non-commercial. He takes risks, does not pander to some notional common reader, doesn't have a clueless marketing team to win over but backs his own judgement. He caters for serious people who want to read serious books, and who don't want to shell out hardback prices for glossy ephemeral paperbacks. His books are beautifully produced and the cover designs (done, as is everything else, by the publisher) are simple without being austere, and are instantly recognisable - just take a look at them here. Then spend some time on the website, then spend some money on the books. And if you subscribe to Sonofabook now you'll be entitled to a free copy of (for example) the forthcoming Kristofs. Another reason to be cheerful.

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