For someone writing both a family history and a publishing one, Tony Faber deals fairly with the personalities, conflicts, failures and courageous decisions that shaped the firm. His format is fascinating. The book primarily consists of extracts from letters and memos composed on the run, snap literary judgements jotted down while its staff juggled the fraught financial intricacies of keeping the firm solvent ... one pleasure of this book is how these men (few female voices are heard), slowly growing old...rarely have time to consider how posterity will judge their decisions. They are too caught up with wartime paper shortages, bombs falling on Mrs Faber’s garage, battles with censorship...and keeping the show on the road. Filled with brilliant cameos, this is for anyone who wonders what publishers actually do all day.
In Faber & Faber: The Untold Story, Toby Faber, grandson of the company’s founder, Geoffrey, has managed to piece together the history of this peculiarly British institution in such a way as to lift the lid on some of the more surprising and, occasionally, unedifying goings-on behind the scenes, while at the same time stopping short of doing anything to diminish its mistique ... This book will fascinate anyone with an interest in 20th century literature, but as well as being a treasure trove of anecdotes and insights it is also a surprisingly readable history of a remarkable company...
What The Untold Story makes clear are the ways in which editorial sensibility and independence—renewed and reasserted at key points in the firm’s history—have combined with sheer luck, over the course of nearly a century, to sustain an operation that might very well have gone under more than once ... Toby Faber can be pardoned for betraying a hint of smugness about the company’s ongoing vigor, even if it’s thanks to a musical. Eliot would have been delighted.
Academics have always itched to get into the Faber archive, to get at the letters and memos that record how this 20th-century canon was made. Toby Faber has rights of entry. He has given us a highly selective anthology rather than a narrative: his book is made up of extracts from original documents (mostly letters, but also memos, board minutes and blurbs), with spare comments from himself. Above all, his book illustrates the firm’s commercial precariousness.
The pleasure of much of this book is the friendly tone of the exchanges between the early directors and shareholders of the firm, and the eloquence with which they express themselves. There are humorous exchanges, frank opinions and, sometimes, jokes ... The letters in the last part of the book reflect something of this loss of close family connections and there is less of the relaxed communication between editors and directors evident in earlier letters. Toby Faber, however, is an eloquent storyteller, and his hope that the book ‘will evoke a sense of fun: both the fun that people (in general) had and (generally) still have while working at Faber’ is well fulfilled.
In a new book titled Faber & Faber: The Untold Story, Toby Faber, the grandson of the company’s founder, relates this house’s story as it celebrates its 90th anniversary. He does so ingeniously, compiling it from original documents — letters, memos, catalog copy, diary entries. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that slowly comes together ... This is, in many regards, a business book. You may learn more than you wanted to know about things like laminates and cartridge paper requirements ... Geoffrey Faber was a rock, and clearly a great-souled man. He’s a bit of a rock in print as well — his letters and diary entries evidence nobility but rarely shine. The details here do consistently shine, however ... The snippets of Larkin’s letters are excellent...
The first shy overtures between writers and their future publisher are the most enjoyable bits of this history of Faber, told through letters, memos, news stories and catalogue entries ... We also read about profit forecasts, cash-flow problems, stock options and takeover threats — fascinating to some, but about as intrinsically riveting as the boardroom memos of a double-glazing firm in Uttoxeter. What stays in the mind are some brilliant vignettes: Monteith writing to the Travellers’ Club secretary to apologise for his lunch guest Thom Gunn’s fringed leather jacket and cowboy boots ... CP Snow’s insufferable conceitGeoffrey Faber, fire watching in the 1940s and, from the Faber roof, seeing London ablaze.
Eliot, naturally, occupies centre-stage in young master Toby’s 90th anniversary celebration, and not merely for his husbandry of a poetry list that included Spender, Auden, Larkin and Hughes ... Alive to the fact that most publishing commemoratives are dull to the point of stupefaction, Toby Faber has taken the oral history route, constructing a narrative out of correspondence and diary entries, with his own interpolations primed to supply context. Attractive though this is, the book is an odd undertaking. The last 40 years rip by in a scant 40 pages, and great as the fanfare that subsequently attended authors such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Paul Auster, there is a limit to the enjoyment that can be got out of letters from editorial sponsors of their early work that routinely begin with bromides about enjoying the first five chapters and hoping to make more detailed comments on their return from the Frankfurt Book Fair. Still, what follows is, for an official history, agreeably even-handed...
Told almost entirely through extracts from correspondence and memoranda, there is a lot here, and the trade-off is between tone and detail. Building the book out of extended quotation allows us to hear the voices of the key players ... By contrast, however, the firm’s authors occupy an oddly muted role. To leave them out would be perverse, and yet with so many major figures on the Faber list, each is reduced to more or less the same walk-on part: the timid initial approach; the kindly but measured acceptance letter; the gushing response ... The book’s cover features a circle of Fabers’ literary eminences...but the work itself has little to say about them individually. Rather, it is a candid chronicle of the business of getting them, and others, profitably into print in the turbulent seas of twentieth-century publishing.
...a uniquely close-up view of 20th-century literary history ... its greatest value lies in revealing the personalities of Faber & Faber’s key figures, including Geoffrey Faber, who founded it in 1929 ... Brimming with humanizing details and unforgettable literary personalities, Faber’s compilation will be a delight for literature fans.
...a richly detailed biography of the distinguished British publishing house ... The author isn’t shy about sharing the fiscal details of publishing, opening with the old adage that the way to make a small fortune in the business is to start with a large one ... Students of modernist literature and publishing history will find this a pleasure.