Sunday, November 1, 2009

lrb 30th

The London Review of Books is celebrating its 30th anniversary by making the entire issue available online. John Sutherland has a piece in the FT on the history of the paper; like the NYRB, it was founded when a printers' strike left the public clamouring for book reviews.

Sutherland says that, just as the NYRB is not much read in the UK, the LRB is not much read in the US. Does this mean you, Paperpools majority? Sitemeter tells me that 51% of you are in the US; 57% of you are Mac users; 53% of you use Firefox; it doesn't know whether you are checking out the LRB every other week to see if John Lanchester has a new piece. (He does, as it happens, on Lehman Brothers. Where have you been?)

Possibly in an attempt to outflank the NYRB, the LRB offers a US subscription of $42 a year, which looks good compared to the NYRB's $109 a year, and a source of grievance compared to its rate for UK subscribers (£63.72). If you're in the UK or EU you can game the system, obviously, by taking out a subscription and having it sent to a US address. That's what I did, anyway - took out a "gift" subscription to be sent to my mother, registered online with the customer ID, and had immediate access to Leofranc Holford-Strevens' review of The Oxford Handbook of Case

English-speakers who have not had the good fortune to be exposed early to Greek or Latin, or even to their own language as it existed before the Norman Conquest, tend to find the notion of grammatical case baffling despite the survival in English of a genitive case (renamed possessive) and the distinction between subject and object pronouns in the first and third persons. Evidently, the alleged Irish saying that when it comes to politics the English are born three whiskeys down applies no less to grammar.

(I'd been frustrated in the past by pieces available to subscribers only, but it was LH-S's piece that settled it - my mother must have a "gift" subscription instanter.)

There's another way to game the system which, as far as I can see, has not yet caught on. Say you're in the UK and want a subscription to the LRB. You have a friend in the US who also wants a subscription to the LRB. The friend in the US takes out a sub for $42 a year, getting the hard copy; you send your friend $21 by Paypal (£12.70 - yes, that's right, a saving of a handsome £51 on the UK subscription) and register online under the name of your helpful friend.

What's love got to do with it? Or, why does it have to be a friend? On the one hand, there must be any number of UK readers who would happily pay a paltry £12.70 for full online access; on the other hand, surely, plenty of American readers who'd think twice about a sub of $42 a year, but would happily take one out for a laughable $21. A certain lack of enterprise, can't help but think, among the book-review-reading classes.


Stephen Mitchelmore said...

I don't subscribe to the LRB because its coverage of fiction stinks. For example, the only contemporary novel discussed in the current issue is Sebastian Faulks' latest excretion.

Helen DeWitt said...

Well, as I say, it was LH-S's piece on OUP's Handbook of Case that converted me.

dave said...


As great as LRB often is, I don't subscribe because I need some artificial way to cull down the volumes of read-worthy content that comes across my (virtual) desk on a daily basis, which doesn't even factor in the reams of literature I haven't yet read (as a recently transplant to London, there's some Dickens/Woolf I'm due to (re-)visit for reasons of place-specificity; forget about my under-schooledness in Racine, Eça de Queiroz, Balzac, and scores of others). My occasionally-disappointing mechanism for limiting the intake of available 'essential' reading is to only read the pieces posted for free by journals I would otherwise read entirely, and sometimes only to read ones linked by trustworthy intellectual comrades. Without this filtering mechanism, I'd spend all my time reading articles and none of it making films.

Speaking of enterprise, why limit the communality of a subscription to one print and one online beneficiary? As is generally true, I think small collectives are a path to greater efficiency.

Helen DeWitt said...

Dave, what can I say? I fought off subscription for years for exactly the reasons you mention, but one fine day Leofranc Holford-Strevens had a review of the OUP Handbook of Case for subscribers only.

Moving on to the subject of gaming the system, I couldn't agree more - why DON'T people club together on a subscription, and agree, for example, that each member of the collective can log on one day a week (in a 7-person collective) or one day a fortnight (in a 14-person collective)? I thought of improving the post with further suggestions for gaming the system, but sloth prevailed.

Anonymous said...







William said...

I do subscribe, in the US, partly because I am married to a contributor. I think their poetry reviews are often good, their philosophy and history is usually worth reading, the arch and elderly subset of their contributors is wonderful, though they keep dying off, and also (wrt fiction) without them I would never have found the great Jame Buchan.

tony said...

I subscribe and am in the U.S., but I usually wind up wishing I'd skipped the pieces on English constitutional law.

I save my old copies of the LRB and the NYRB and pass them on to a retired Medievalist in Kalamazoo (2-person collective).