The first publish : 25 October 1979 Founded in 1979, after the Times Literary Supplement was closed by a year-long industrial dispute, the LRB has a circulation of 64,038 ( by comparison, according to 2013 Audit Bureau of Circulations figures, the Spectator has a circulation of 62,581 and the New Statesman of 28,495 ). The web site attracts 575,000 visitors a month and there are a further 2,000 Kindle subscribers. At a time when most print publications are losing readers, the LRB ‘s circulation is going up. partially, this is to do with the commissions. Alongside the common run of densely typed book reviews, arts criticism, authors ‘ diaries and classified advertisements offering writers ‘ retreats in the Peloponnese, Wilmers has made a feature of speech of the long-form essay. The test, normally penned by a leading author and frequently running to well over 10,000 words, with barely a concession to the fanciful modern hope for accompanying photograph or exemplification, has become the LRB ‘s forte. These are the pieces that systematically challenge orthodoxy and take delight in a well-constructed argument ; that dare to say things the rest of us might be thinking or that simply uncover something interesting or curious. One of her late favourites, says Wilmers, was a piece on “ the linguistic process of bribery ”. At its best, the LRB long-form essay is clever, arch, intrigue and fluent. At its worst, it might go on a bit. “ I think there ‘s an frightful set of short opinion around, ” says Wilmers, “ and it ‘s quite courteous to find an argument in a man that is n’t just stated. ” She is sitting in a humble corner board on a sofa upholstered in countrified pale-green and loss stripes. For unexplained reasons, there is an abandoned iron and an Anglepoise lamp on the floor that Wilmers had to step over, reasonably shakily in ballet pumps, to get to her induct. She is a minor woman with a fall confront and calculating eyes. Her physical appearance is elegant but economic, crafted with the lapp preciseness as a judiciously edit sentence. Does she think, in a modern, media-driven world where opinions are increasingly reduced to soundbites of 140 characters or fewer, that there is a crave for longer-form write ? “ I think that must, to some extent, be the case because otherwise, why would we be doing so much better than early papers ? ” And it is true that, over the past year, the London Review of Books has found itself in the unusual position of being the centre of preferably a lot of attention. There was a holocene populace spat concerning the miss of female reviewers in its pages, but much of the matter to has been generated by the introduction of a Winter Lecture series – speeches delivered by writers in person on a especial topic and then printed at full-length as an test in the magazine. Hilary Mantel did one in February 2013, in which she called the Duchess of Cambridge “ a shop-window mannequin ”. The casual Mail promptly featured the “ fire ” on its presence foliate and David Cameron was moved to comment that Mantel was “ wholly mislead and completely wrong ” . 6 March 2014. When James Meek analysed the house grocery store in the pages of the LRB in January ( “ A caparison deficit that has been building up for the past 30 years is reaching the point of crisis ” ), it triggered a national debate. The current topic carries an extraordinary 26,000-word patch by Andrew O’Hagan on his fail undertake to ghost the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange ‘s memoir, which was trending on Twitter before copies even hit the news-stands. The next consequence features classicist Mary Beard ‘s lecture on “ the populace spokesperson of women ”, which has already caused a splash following her assertion that women who speak up in the populace sphere are “ cover as freakish androgynes ”. Does she enjoy the controversies generated by the magazine ? Her lips twitch into an almost-smile. Her eyes, below the silver fringe of her bob haircloth, wrinkle at the corners. “ I do n’t un-enjoy it, ” she replies carefully. She says she “ never, ever would have predicted ” the fall-out generated by the Hilary Mantel patch. “ If you read the unharmed thing, it ‘s truly not… there ‘s not much of an issue there. She was feeling blue for her [ the Duchess of Cambridge ] more than anything. ” What about the piece written in 2007 by Booker-prize achiever Anne Enright concerning the parents of Madeleine McCann ( “ I was angry at their failure to accept that their daughter was probably dead. I wanted them to grieve ” ) or Mary Beard writing in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 that America “ had it coming ” ? “ ‘People will say America had it coming ‘ is what she said ! ” Wilmers corrects impatiently. “ Well, everybody said we would have bombs put through our letterbox. ” And did they ? “ No. It just caught on and it obviously touched a nerve because there were people who presumably did think that. ” This is, in many respects, a key contribution of the LRB ‘s ethos : it provides a space in which intelligent people can think differently ; in which discomfiting thoughts can be voiced and provoking arguments can be aired with adequate room to breathe. The writer Marina Warner, who is one of the magazine ‘s contribute editors, compares the LRB ‘s pages to “ a full of life discussion among hire people… I like its range – and its boldness in allowing different views and hard opinions, and the length of the pieces allows for developing arguments and laying out evidence. ” Andrew O’Hagan agrees : “ The paper is enquiring, amusing, political, ambivalent, and filled with a sense of risk. ” Wilmers sees the LRB as an antidote to the sameness of impression in the rest of the media. “ Newspapers say the same thing over and over again and we ‘re all horrified and jointly up in arms and there ‘s normally more than one side to something, ” she says. “ so if you hear person saying something coherent and intelligent that ‘s not wholly out of order, it ‘s interest to read it. ” chitter, with its emphasis on instantaneous reaction and opinion-forming cliques is, she thinks, function of the problem. “ Why do people feel compelled to agree with everybody ? It would be quite decent if there was slenderly less scandal about the lapp things all the fourth dimension. ” photograph : Katherine Rose for the Observer Is Wilmers on Twitter ? “ No, ” she says and then immediately contradicts herself : “ I mean, yes, I am. I ‘ve merely ever been on once, when Jenny Diski asked me to do something. ” Her Twitter avatar, quite bewilderingly, is the persona of a fresh-faced young charwoman. “ That ‘s my god-daughter, Flora Neve, ” she says sternly. No far explanation is forthcoming and I suddenly feel preferably foolish for asking. For all its success, the London Review of Books struggles to make money. It owes its continue universe to the generosity of Wilmers herself, who regularly siphons in cash from a family trust fund. Her german father was the laminitis of a multinational utilities party and her ancestors on her beget ‘s side were russian Jews who included the analyst Max Eitingon and Leonid Eitingon, a Stalinist agent responsible for masterminding the character assassination of Leon Trotsky. Wilmers was born in Chicago, raised in New York, then moved with her family to Brussels aged nine and was sent to boarding school in England. Did she like boarding school ? [ Deadpan ] “ It was better than Brussels. ” Having grown up abroad, does she feel like an foreigner ? “ You mean, do I feel foreign ? ” A pause. “ When it suits me. ” The class money means the LRB never has to worry about paying back its loans – in January 2010, the magazine was estimated to be £27m in debt to the believe. And yet it hush manages to pay its writers at a base-rate of 30p a word ( rising by a considerable margin if the article is longer than average ). The fee for O’Hagan ‘s piece on Assange was rumoured to be in five figures. Marina Warner says that payment is constantly processed promptly “ and liberally, by comparison with other papers ”. Is it sustainable, I ask the LRB ‘s publisher, Nicholas Spice ? He looks vaguely shocked at the trace. “ Oh no, it ‘s not sustainable in fiscal terms, ” he says. Spice has a pleasantly square manner and a faintly military demeanor. He is the kind of serviceman you suspect would be incapable of telling a lie, even though sometimes he credibly should. “ It loses a lot of money, ” he continues cheerfully. “ The most important thing is that it has constantly had identical generous subscribe from its shareholders. And we ‘ve had the like shareholders since 1980, which is very unusual – I should think unprecedented – for a literary publication or arts organization. The big matter is that we have been able to invest in creating a market for a very good editorial product. ” The LRB has made inroads in other areas – there is a nearby London Review of Books bookshop, and a popular cake-shop that serves rosebud tea and gluten-free pistachio cakes – but even these, according to Spice, are only “ near to breaking evening ”.
“ The great thing about the bookshop is it gives the magazine a localization, ” Spice says, still looking on the brightest possible side, “ and it ‘s very good for our relations with publishers. ” 21 July 1994 The seeming miss of fiscal constraint means that the LRB can be run in a charmingly antique, semi-shambolic manner. There is, admits Wilmers, “ an element of caprice ” to each issue. Writers are not given much of a deadline – “ we ‘re not excessively crabbed about clock time, then after a few months the assemble comes in ” – and the editors take a capital softwood of caution over the copy. Every fact is checked and proofs are sent back to the writer with suggestions and queries and then, says Wilmers : “ there ‘s all that awful farce about spacing and line-breaks, which I ‘m surely cipher notices, but we do ”. many of the writers have never met the staff and Wilmers herself has acquired a healthy degree of mystique. “ I ‘ve never met Mary-Kay Wilmers, ” says Adam Mars-Jones, a regular subscriber, “ and by the goal of concluding year had come to think that was a good thing. If she liked my writing it seemed a piece foolhardy to think she might like me equally well. ” The magazine goes to press on Friday night and the staff are often there into the early hours. Until recently, they ordered in supper from a local anesthetic amerind restaurant a lot favoured by Wilmers. But she went on vacation a few weeks ago and returned to find that her staff had staged a silent coup d’etat and were getting their food from Ottolenghi alternatively. She does n’t like it american samoa much. “ possibly, ” she says, fiddling with the hem of her silk blouse, “ it ‘s just because I think, ‘How dare they ! ‘ ” She ‘s joking. I think. One of the criticisms levelled at the LRB is that it can occasionally seem cosseted from the real earth, run by an exclusive clique of literary-minded north Londoners who do n’t have to worry about anything so common as the bed line. Wilmers is an prove part of the liberal-leaning Primrose Hill intelligentsia : she was married to the film director Stephen Frears ( the pair divorced in the 70s and have two sons, Sam and Will ) and used to live next doorway to the biographer Claire Tomalin and her husband, the writer Michael Frayn. The dramatist Jonathan Miller was down the road. Her best ally from Oxford ( where she read modern languages ) is Alan Bennett. When I put this to her, Wilmers blinks. “ Does everybody live in north London ? ” she asks herself, before going through a mental checklist of contributors and staff. “ John Lanchester does n’t, ” she announces triumphantly. Spice says that most of their readers come from N and NW postcodes. Anywhere else ? “ Clapham, ” he replies briskly. But the LRB ‘s inclination to pluck writers from the lapp limited pool of contributors has a more serious knock-on effect : they have systematically struggled to publish as many women as men, for example. In 2013, they used 43 female reserve reviewers compared to 195 male, according to figures compiled by the american literary administration Vida. The Paris Review, by line, achieved a 50/50 parity of men and women, while the New York Times book follow-up published 725 women and 894 men. It is not just the review pages : over its history, the LRB has published 82 % of articles by men and equitable 18 % by women. The write out was recently aired in a discussion on Open Book on Radio 4. The LRB declined to participate and issued a rather disdainful statement claiming that the inequality in their pages was regrettable but reflected a broad discrimination in an imperfect populace. The argument included a quote from Wilmers, given in a 2001 interview on the lapp subjugate : “ I think women find it difficult to do their jobs, look after their children, fudge dinner and publish pieces, ” Wilmers said at the meter. “ They just ca n’t get it done. And men can… They ‘re not so frighten of asserting themselves. And they ‘re not then anxious to please. ” 9 January 2014. Listeners were punctually enraged by the hint that female writers were excessively busy scrubbing dishes to use their critical faculties. When I ask Wilmers about the episode, she visibly braces. “ obviously, over the years I ‘ve been discriminated against plenty, ” she says. “ It started when I finished university and was told to go and learn to write shorthand by the Oxford ‘head of women ‘s appointments ‘. so, obviously, I know what it ‘s like. I know what the problem is. And all I can say is that we hope to do better, we hope to get more female reviewers, bombast bombast bombast. ” But how precisely do they hope to do better ? “ well, we hope we will find more women writers. We will look for more women. ” She glances anxiously towards the close door that leads into the function and starts mouthing to me that she ‘s been tell not to say anything by her colleagues and they do n’t want her stirring it all improving again. And yet, being of a naturally dependable disposition, Wilmers ca n’t help herself. surely that comment about women being excessively busy doing the family chores to write was spectacularly misguided ? “ Yes, ” she concedes. “ I think the position has changed because, surely, when I was married, I did the wash up, I did the cook, I looked after the children… I think that ‘s much less the sheath now. Men do a lot more so women have less to do. So I think there has been a change but I do think men are more incline to say ‘Oh sleep together it. I ‘ll do whatever I want to do now. My career matters. I ‘ll go and write a novel ‘, whereas women are a sting more ho-hummy about their careers. “ All that has actually changed since I ‘ve been working. When I was at Oxford, there was one woman for every 10 men. think that. I mean, that ‘s quite a statistic. so yes, it ‘s changed a batch and there are many more women writers now in the LRB than there were 40, 50 years ago. ” The irony is that Wilmers did end up becoming a repository. After peripatetic breeding that took her from America to Portugal, Switzerland, Belgium and England, Wilmers read french and russian at Oxford. She had ambitions to be a coincident interpreter but ended up as a secretary at the offices of Faber & Faber. At the time, T S Eliot was director. “ I was quite disappoint with him, ” she says. “ He ‘d thank people for their ‘gracious ‘ letter and I though ‘Gosh, what a frightful word. ‘ ” She left Faber and had spells at the Listener cartridge holder and the Times Literary Supplement before co-founding the LRB in 1979, in the first place as an outgrowth of the New York Review of Books. And all the while, she was coping with single motherhood and the emotional drudgery of raising a vomit child. Wilmers ‘s youngest son, Sam, was born with Riley-Day syndrome, a rare condition that affects the growth of the anxious system. Sam was subject to seizures, hapless co-ordination, failing eyesight and rest issues. today, in his 40s, he is about blind but “ booming ”, Wilmers says fondly, “ because he ‘s got such a well quality ”. Her work, she says, was an integral part of keeping her reasonable. “ I think I found it easier with the caper than I would have without. I would have been that much more anxious about my son had I been at home watching him all the time. ” She sees her character as editor program in the like terms as the coincident interpreter she once wanted to be ; they are both, she says, “ ventriloquial occupations. It ‘s speaking through other people. It ‘s not that I ‘m not vitamin a egomaniacal as everyone else. It ‘s good that I say a bit less. ” She has written an acclaim volume of syndicate history, The Eitingons, but says she lacks the “ inventiveness ” to write a novel. I mention to her that I recently read Love, Nina, a delightful collection of letters written by Wilmers ‘s early nanny, Nina Stibbe, while she was living with the syndicate in the 80s. In it, Stibbe writes about Wilmers ‘s habit of “ piping up with a defining two words ” while “ everyone else [ is ] yak and being boring and otiose ”. Does she recognise that in herself ? “ Yes ! ” she says. “ It ‘s not what I most like about myself but I have to say, yes I do. But… um… it ‘s that I do n’t inevitably have all the interim sentences. Those words are the two words I have. It ‘s a bite of a defect. ” But her facility for distilling a sentence makes her, according to Andrew O’Hagan, one of the big editors. “ She and Karl Miller have done more for the british try than anyone in the past 150 years, ” he says. “ Mary-Kay works harder than any editor program I know. And if this were France, they ‘d be posting the Légion d’honneur through her door every good morning. ” I wonder whether, at the age of 75, having lived through an era of inadequate give and endemic discrimination, part of Wilmers ‘s attitude to the miss of female reviewers in the LRB is explained by a belief that people should barely get on and do things quite than lay waste to time complaining about them ? “ Yes, absolutely. ” Her feminism is, she concedes, “ old-fashioned… I tend to take exception to men in a adult way, but that ‘s a slightly outmode shape of feminist movement. ” man as a general concept or men as individuals ? “ Men as a general concept, and individual men when they ‘re behaving like men. ” Is that why her marriage failed ? “ No. I mean, it was credibly a anserine mind in the beginning locate. I do n’t feel antipathy [ towards men ], I precisely am tend to think that… ” She breaks off. “ It happened earlier this morning. You ‘re talking to a male colleague, trying to get your point of view across, and then another male colleague walks across and agrees astutely with what the early man is saying. That always happens. ” Does she say anything ? “ Yes ! ”
I ca n’t imagine, given her natural need to get on and do things, that she has raw embraced the ageing process. “ I feel aghast, ” she admits. “ I keep thinking I ‘ll wake up and find I ‘m not 75 any more. ” She has noticed a certain stickiness in the whirring of the mental cogs – when trying to convert dollars into greatest, for example, or when she makes mistakes on the computer “ and there ‘s quite a distribute of groaning ” from her colleagues. How will she give up this caper, I wonder, when the fourth dimension comes ? “ With difficulty, ” she says. “ But the editor of the New York Review of Books is 10 years older than me. That ‘s what I cling to. ” The London Review of Books might not feature adequate women in its pages. But there ‘s no doubt that the one at its helm is pretty formidable .