I guess only Imani and I have noticed the redesigned Times Literary Supplement, which debuted on June 15. Even Stothard hasn’t noticed, and he’s the editor. I’ll skip the elements Imani addressed and simply point out the other goods and the bads from my point of view.
First, the goods:
A masthead. We now have a list of TLS editors by topic. This is great. At a minimum, when I see the acknowledgements to Alan Jenkins and Adrian Tahourdin in John Taylor’s magnificent Paths to Contemporary French Literature, I can say: fortunately, still on the job!
Sorry, that’s all the “goods.” Here’s the not-so-much:
“This Week.” Kinda like the “Up Front” section in the New York Times Book Review, this new feature appears under the masthead on page 2 and provides an overview of the contents of this issue. Not really necessary. I find myself skipping this.
“Letters.” Five columns now instead of four. The four-column was a little more readable. But this might just be an “everyone hates change” kind of thing.
Finally, two of my favorite elements are now missing:
“Author, Author.” This was a little quiz featuring three, often obscure, quotations from literary works. You had to guess the author and the work. It ran for 1,351 issues (that is, almost 26 years). I got it right twice in 26 years. Still, I miss the darn thing. Trading quotations is just so essential to literary culture, a little way in which literary works survive the years and decades, “a way of happening,” as Auden says, “a mouth.”
The Back Page: Now “NB” (one of my favorite features) occupies the back page, we’ve lost one of my favorites things about the TLS: the back-page review. Although one of the more prominent pages of any publication, the back page of the TLS was never used to highlight the most popular books or the most important books. Rather, the selections for the back page followed some formula I could never really deduce. The significance of the insignificant: that was one theme. Another was the insignificance of the significant. Life in all its glory and futility: that was another. How ephemeral our current occupations and diversions: yet another. Here’s a list of the last 30 or so titles covered on the back page. Maybe you can detect an all-encompassing theme I’ve missed:
The Iron Whim: A fragmented history of typewriting (June 1)
Second Lives (May 18)
The Sun King’s Garden: Louis XIV, Andre Le Notre, and the creation of the gardens of Versailles (May 11)
Queen of Fashion: What Marie Antoinette wore to the Revolution (Apr 27)
The Hottentot Venus: the life and death of Saartjie Baartman born 1798-buried 2002 (Apr 20)
Clever Girl: A sentimental education (Apr 13)
The Cat Orchestra and the Elephant Butler: The strange history of amazing animals (Apr 6)
Sovereign Ladies: The six reigning Queens of England (Mar 23)
The Ulster Anthology (Mar 19)
Agent Zigzag: The true wartime story of Eddie Chapman: lover, betrayer, hero, spy / Zigzag: The incredible war-time exploits of double agent Eddie Chapman (Mar 9)
Spike and Co: Inside the house of fun with Milligan, Sykes, Galton, and Simpson / The Unpublished Spike Milligan Box 18 (Feb 23)
Household Gods: The British and their possessions (Feb 9)
The Seven Hills of Rome: A geological tour of the Eternal City (Jan 26)
The Ball Is Round: A global history of football (Jan 19)
Growing Out of Trouble: A real-life story of redemption and recovery (Jan 12)
The Medical Detective: John Snow and the mystery of cholera (Jan 5)
London: City of disappearances (Dec 22 & 29)
Hollow Earth: The long and curious history of imagining strange lands, fantastical creatures, and marvelous machines below the Earth’s surface (Dec 15)
Love and Louis XIV: the women in the life of the Sun King (Dec 8)
Casanova’s Women (Dec 1)
The North Face of Soho: Unreliable Memoirs, Volume Four (Nov 17)
The Big Oyster: New York in the world: A molluscular history (Nov 10)
Time at War (Oct 20)
Bringing the House Down: A family memoir (Oct 13)
Nature’s Engraver: A life of Thomas Bewick (Oct 6)
I Was Vermeer: The legend of the forger who swindled the Nazis (Sep 1)
Alistair Cooke’s American Journey (Aug 11)
The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes (Aug 4)
Looking at this again, perhaps the only thing that really binds all these books together is a wry smile, or a knowing look. It was a little silent dialogue with the editor. Or was it just my imagination?