VIVID SKETCHES AND ANECDOTES FROM THE LAST GREAT INDEPENDENT PUBLISHER OF HIS GENERATION
A personal view from one of the most colourful personalities on London’s cultural scene over the past four decades
This engaging and illuminating potpourri of vignettes selected from Naim Attallah’s fifteen books of memoirs and interviews, along with a sprinkling of blog posts, gives a taste of late 20th century London culture and entertainingly evokes the shifting fortunes of publishing life over the past forty years.
In Memories, Attallah not only writes about his contemporaries at length, but is also written about by them and he is never shy in expressing the highs and lows of his different relationships with a catalogue of cultural luminaries, many of whom are still close friends of his to this day. These range from violinist and conductor Yehudi Menuhin to the late Christina Foyle, owner of Foyles; jeweller Tomasz Starzewski to artist Emma Sergeant and the former chairman of Condé Nast Britain, Nicholas Coleridge.
As the chairman of Quartet and former owner of the Women’s Press, Naim has published a diverse roll call of notable literary names throughout the years, including Angela Carter, Leni Riefenstahl, Annie Ernaux, Tahar Ben Jelloun and Thomas Bernhard, to name but a few. Attallah was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2017 New Year Honours for services to literature and the arts.
Memories is a book full of interesting characters and events, providing a lively and compelling overview of Attallah’s long and varied career. The outpourings of memories onto the page have a heady mix of nostalgic commentary, supporting accounts and personal opinion with just, on occasion, a smattering of irony.
This book, for me, would have benefited from a more structured timeline or, perhaps, a table of contents/an index. Not to take away from the sinuous tales of this nearly 90 year old but the lack of which occasionally made this heady “pot-pourri” at times a little awkward to grasp. That aside there are some colourful, humorous and personal anecdotes within these pages which recall another era and invoke the fascinating world of publishing and wider business with which Naim Attallah was connected.
Naim Attallah writes in the foreword: “What follows is a pot-pourri of vignettes selected from those books and blogs which convey the varied and many moments in my life which both amuse and console in my old age. Hopefully they may also amuse and interest my readers.” So, much of this material has been available to readers elsewhere but not, as it is now, together in this format.
I am sure that this will appeal to readers who would like to take a glimpse into a world of publishing from an era just prior to when some of the giant publishing companies that are now with us began to develop. Naim Attallah enabled Quartet to publish not only some bestsellers but also more niche books including supporting a number of those which hailed from or are about the Lebanon, his country of birth.
His ownership of the Women’s Press must have given rise to some consternation at the time as Attallah reputation, which is seemingly acknowledged, is to have based his recruitment of female staff on their good looks! Archaic as it is now, hopefully, given the times I doubt this would come as a shock to most. However, the book does seems to demonstrate that whilst Attallah embraced this approach he had some kind of innate ability to pick women with talent. Certainly those mentioned went on to have some amazing careers and lives.
I think Naim Attallah would be a fascinating person to sit with over a drink, lunch or dinner and listen to his stories of the past forty plus years. This book shares some of those stories and evokes rather different albeit fascinating times. It lets us sit and immerse ourselves in his world, his lifestyle and enjoy ‘hearing’ his stories.
This is just the time of year or, perhaps, this is just the year that this book would appeal to a wider audience. To those of us who are not part of the publishing world, though we may have an interest in it, and now have time on our hands to pick up a book with which the author sets out to entertain and does not only that but intrigues and fascinates. The reader does not have to agree with everything he has done or says. This is a glimpse into how a young man came to this country without very much and made his way. Naim Attallah has lived a wonderful life. This is a diverting read which will banish away the disquiet of our current situation – for a while anyway.
Many thanks to Quartet Books who kindly provided a copy of Memories by Naim Attallah in return for an honest review.
Buy: Quartet Books|Local bookshops |Usual online booksellers
Farewell my lovelies – Sally Weale for The Guardian
Author: Naim Attallah is the chairman of Quartet Books. The former CEO of the Asprey Group also co-founded the Academy Club with Auberon Waugh, supported the Literary Review and The Oldie for many years and has written three volumes of autobiography*, as well as been involved in numerous productions for the theatre, cinema and television. He was award a CBE in 2017 for services to literature and the arts. He lives in London.
*Fulfilment and Betrayal: 1975–1995, Quartet Books, 2007
*In Touch with his Roots, Quartet Books, 2006
*The Boy in England, Quartet Books, 2005
The Old Ladies of Nazareth, London: Quartet Books, 2004
Dialogues, Quartet Books, 2000
Insights, Quartet Books, 1999
In Conversation with Naim Attallah, London: Quartet Books, 1998
A Woman a Week, Quartet Books, 1998
Tara and Claire, Quartet Books, 1997
Asking Questions: An Anthology of Interviews with Naim Attallah (with Charlotte Smith), 1996
A Timeless Passion, Quartet Books, 1995
Speaking for the Oldie, Quartet Books
More of a Certain Age, Quartet Books, 1994
Of a Certain Age, Quartet Books, 1993
Singular Encounters, Quartet Books, 1992
Women, Quartet Books, 1988
As editor: A Scribbler in Soho: A Celebration of Auberon Waugh (2019). This is a tribute to Waugh to whom Attallah was very close and had, in 1986, appointed editor of the Literary Review.
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