On Friday the London Review of Books will celebrate its 30th anniversary with a bumper length edition and the launch of the magazine’s online archive comprising no less than 30 million words in 12,000 essays by more than 2,000 contributors.
I started reading the LRB the year after I left university, while working in Hong Kong as a secondary school teacher. With no marking to do, few lessons to teach and no extra-curricula activities to oversee, my timetable might have been gratifyingly blank but for the school’s draconian (at least as it seemed to me at the time) working culture. Teachers, when not in the classroom, were forbidden from leaving their desks in the staffroom, much less the school, during working hours. It was bad form to turn off your computer or to use it to play videos or computer games (though such programmes were far beyond the capabilities of my laptop which wheezed whenever asked to load so much as a picture or the bright, gurning dragon school logo on the screensaver). ‘You have to appear to work at all times’ an experienced TEFL teacher had counselled me, ‘which is why I choose a desk at the back of the room. They can’t see the screen that way.’
But I couldn’t get my desk moved and with the Head of English seated behind me I had to be careful what I looked at. Too long surfing the BBC Sport’s website inevitably led to the questions like, ‘Hey what you doing?’ or ‘Hey, Lazy, you want do some marking?’
Mercifully at some point I stumbled upon the LRB’s website. It remains one of the best presented and easy to use sites on the net and, wondrously, it had no slow to load, easy to condemn, pictures. Reading the LRB I looked like I was working. Sometimes I even felt like I was, but not too often. Plus I learned stuff, stopped reading my father’s Spectator, made ill advised friendships with people like Salman and took my first steps towards apparently continuous, unemployability…
To mark 30 years of LRB, I spoke to Senior Editor, Paul Myerscough, about where the magazine stands politically, how significant political essays can be, whether he’d noticed any changes to government policy following articles written in the magazine, ‘snark’ and what happened to Christopher Hitchens.