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NB by J.C.

A walk through the Times Literary Supplement

James Campbell

Cover of NB by J.C. by James Campbell
10% off all versions
Categories: 20th Century, 21st Century, Art, British, Film, Humour, Language, Memoirs
Imprint: Lives and Letters
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (396 pages)
(Pub. Apr 2023)
£25.00 £22.50
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(Pub. Apr 2023)
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  • Description
  • Author
  • Reviews
  • A The Spectator and Observer Book of the Year

    The NB column in the Times Literary Supplement, signed at the foot by J.C., occupied the back page of the paper for thirteen years. For a decade before that, it was in the middle pages. That's roughly 60,000 words a year for twenty-three years.

    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. The 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 Basement Labyrinth, where all executive decisions are made, and where 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 (eg, The Kindness of Strangers); the Incomprehensibility Prize, for impenetrable academic writing; the Jean-Paul Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal, and the All Must Have Prizes Prize, for authors who have never won anything.

    Readers of NB by J.C. will find an off-beat guide to our cultural times. The book begins in 2001 and proceeds to 2020. The substantial Introduction offers a history of the TLS itself from birth through the precarious stages of its adaptation and survival.
    James Campbell was an editor for many years at the TLS, where he also wrote the paper's NB column. His books include Invisible Country: A Journey through Scotland, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, This Is the Beat Generation, and, most recently, Just Go Down ... read more
    'NB by JC collects James Campbell's fearless, gossipy, wise and brutally funny TLS columns in one handy volume, and reminds us what a lark book chat would be again if we all got off social media. It would make an excellent gift.'
    Don Paterson, The Guardian
    'It is full of clever perceptions on the language, habits and fashions of the book world, with regular features on prizes and reviews and strolls through literary London. A mixture of sharp commentary and funny jokes, it is a fond reminder of a past era.'
    Lindsay Duguid, The Tablet

    'Campbell, who is from Glasgow, is one of Scotland's finest under-recognised writers... You might not agree with all of Campbell's cavils and judgements, but there is amusement, enlightenment or provocation on every page. Thanks to Campbell's dry, unflashy wit, there are also moments of laugh-out-loud humour.'
    Rosemary Goring, The Herald
    'NB is the TLS's amusing diary... It's all extremely readable. You can dip in and out at random and always find something to cheer you up... In his final column, Campbell said good writing comes down to "elegance, eloquence and entertainment. The last means, essentially, 'Don't be boring'." J.C. never was.'
    Harry Mount, The New Criterion
    'In JC's hands, NB was a digestif... He styled himself "aphorist and perambulator", an elegant and eloquent wanderer through literary affairs... a persona that spoke in the first-person plural, that could occasionally be snobbish but that was always witty and companionable and framed in immaculate prose.'
    Henry Eliot, Telegraph
      'By turns entertaining and vexatious, NB presents a different tone from the remainder of the paper while sharing its underlying seriousness and its scepticism about literary and political fashions. NB is, at times, the TLS with the gloves off.'
    Sean O'Brien, Literary Review
    '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. Something more than pleasure: warmth, laughter, gratitude (especially when he is nailing academic unreadability)...'
    Vivian Gornick
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