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This is not a book review

by Caroline Simpson
Let’s be clear. I don’t write book reviews, so this is not a book review of Faber & Faber: The Untold Story by Toby Faber (Faber & Faber Ltd, 2019).

Ironically, this book first came to my notice when I read a book review of it last year, and when the day came to start reading it, I was sure I knew nothing about Faber & Faber beyond their being a publishing house. As it turns out, that was not true.

This book offers up snippets of archival information  board minutes, diary entries, catalogue blurbs, memoranda and copious correspondence  in enticingly bite-sized pieces. From founder Geoffrey Faber’s moments of personal uncertainty in 1924 to the publishing house’s buy-out woes of the 1980s, there is plenty of insight into how this firm has remained independent and solvent. The tally of famous literary names is impressive. How could it fail to be when one of Faber & Faber’s first editors was T S Eliot? All fascinating stuff. And what an excellent index!
[Photo credit: Caroline Simpson]
But for me the joy of this book was the connections I made. I hadn’t twigged that Faber & Faber had a music-publishing arm and that a friend of my parents had worked there. As a young pianist I had loved the book of songs he had edited, The Faber Book of Children’s Songs, without ever connecting it or him to Faber & Faber. And yet when I look at it now, I see his name listed along with Donald Mitchell’s on the cover. The same Donald Mitchell who is represented in Faber & Faber: The Untold Story as the founder of Faber music. The same Donald Mitchell whose snippets of correspondence with Benjamin Britten I read in the book. Those two degrees of separation we Kiwis like to discover.

As the book took me through the heady days of the early ’80s, I discovered Faber was responsible for Not 1982, a satirical desk calendar linked to the BBC program Not the Nine O’Clock News. An anonymised, hilarious ‘po-faced’ letter from a disgusted member of staff sent me running to my copy (recently rescued from my father’s house clear-out) to read the inside cover and see if I could discover who they were. No luck, but I had fun reading it.

And scanning my bookshelf I see The Faber Book of Modern Verse from my university days. My 1982 edition has the Pentagram-designed cover with the distinctive ‘new’ Faber & Faber style that included the repeating double ‘f’ colophon. That colophon is so familiar to me, and yet I never connected it to Faber & Faber. 

A book review would suggest you read this book for its fascinating history of Faber & Faber, but I suggest you read it to discover what your connections are.

Caroline Simpson, a freelance editor and EdANZ Branch President, can be contacted at edanz.president@iped-editors.org


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