Letter: Scholars win in war of words (1)

April 12, 2001

Henry Hardy's enjoyably arch review (Books, THES , March 30) of Andrew Malcolm's latest blast against Oxford University Press invites a footnote.

He says - though I do not for a moment believe him - that he still does not know why the delegate of Oxford University Press (myself), who was initially so keen on Malcolm's Making Names, turned against the book.

There were three reasons. First, it is sensible to support editors who are keen on a book but not to press them to go along with books they do not like. Hardy liked Making Names; his successor did not.

Second, it was clear that the travellers who actually get books into the shops were entirely unpersuaded that the book was a viable proposition, so the gamble I had been keen on was increasingly forlorn.

Third, the book wore badly on re-reading; what had seemed fresh, lively and amusing seemed coarse and jeering the third time around. Perhaps the reading climate had changed, perhaps it was always a book that should be read once only. But I never changed my initial view: that OUP should have published a thousand copies and seen if they sold - the press was not poor and a few quid on an outsider was a worthwhile bet.

I regret that Malcolm has subsequently devoted his life to a vendetta against OUP. He conducts it with a literary verve that makes one wish he would direct his talents to something more productive.

Alan Ryan
New College, Oxford

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