NB by J. C., a collection of James Campbell’s best columns from the TLS, is a guide to the literary pleasures and absurdities of the past two decades.
For over twenty years, James Campbell wrote the popular NB column on the back page of The Times Literary Supplement, signing it “J. C.” The initials were not intended as a disguise, but to provide freedom to the persona. “J. C.” was irreverent, whimsical, occasionally severe. The column had a low tolerance for the literary sins of pomposity, hypocrisy, and cant. It took aim at contemporary absurdities resulting from identity politics or from academic jargon. Readers of NB by J. C. will find not only an off-beat guide to our cultural times, but entries from The TLS Reviewer’s Handbook, which offered regular advice on the cultivation of a good writing style. “Above all, aspire to the Three E’s: elegance, eloquence, and entertainment.”
The Introduction offers a history of the TLS from its beginnings through its precarious stages of adaptation and survival.
“The secret of J. C.’s weekly column is its unique mix of anonymity with intimacy: this ‘stranger’, whom we meet over our morning coffee, is the most discreet and delightful of guides to what’s happening―good or mostly bad―in the literary world, with all its pretensions, follies, and occasional triumphs. I especially relished J. C.’s prizes―for the worst prose or the silliest blurb. Then again, leave it to J. C. to find the rare edition, the forgotten book of poems that deserves another look. True wit, coupled with wisdom: it’s the rarest of writerly feats.”
―Marjorie Perloff, author of The Vienna Paradox: A Memoir
“I receive immense pleasure from J. C.’s columns. Something more than pleasure: warmth, laughter, gratitude (especially when he is nailing academic unreadability).”
—Vivian Gornick, author of Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader
"For many years, Campbell appeared each week in the Times Literary Supplement, where his back-page essay—ironic, bookish and irresistibly entertaining—was every subscriber’s favorite feature."
—Michael Dirda, Washington Post, on James Campbell's NB column
"[NB by J. C. is] full of lore about the TLS and its storied contributors, among them Virginia Woolf; reflections on composing a weekly column, which emerges as a test of endurance, versatility, and compositional quickness; notes on the experience of working under successive editorial regimes as well as the Murdoch super-regime; and remarks on the correspondence a popular and sometimes esoteric literary column can generate."
James Campbell's books include Invisible Country: A Journey through Scotland, Gate Fever: Voices from a Prison, Talking at the Gates: A Life of James Baldwin, and, most recently, Just Go Down to the Road (Paul Dry Books, 2022). He lives in London.