Saturday 12 November 2022

I.M. Ian Jack (1945-2022): An Appreciation

By Jonathan Taylor

On 28th October 2022, author, editor and journalist Ian Jack died aged 77, after a short illness. At different times, he was editor of The Independent on Sunday, Granta Magazine, and regular columnist for The Guardian

This article, though, isn't intended as an obituary or biography. I didn't know Ian long or well enough to write about his whole life, and only met him a handful of times. You can read an obituary in The Guardian here. Rather, I want to write a short piece about him and the huge impact he had on me - as with many other authors whom he edited and mentored over the years - despite the relative brevity of our association. 

I first met Ian back in 2005. He was then editor of Granta, and had been since 1995. He published my article in the magazine, and then my memoir - my first non-academic book - in 2007, with Granta Books. I was immensely lucky to have him as my first editor, and I learned such a lot from him. He was a brilliant editor, taking me through the book line-by-line, image-by-image, chapter-by-chapter, never pulling any punches (the first edit he insisted on involved cutting 40,000 words). I was going through a tough time in my day job in the mid-2000s, and my association with Ian and Granta felt like an antidote to that, a haven, the opposite of the malignant everyday. Ian was encouraging and critical, kind and insightful, and really seemed to care about the books and articles he oversaw. I visited him a few times in London to talk through the book and edits, and was welcomed into his house, where I have happy memories of sitting in his small walled garden, drinking beer and talking about my book, future plans - as well as memoirs, fathers, hobbies, beer, old-school sweets, trains, universities and so on. 

Ian seemed interested in everything, and he remains a model for me of editing and writing in that regard: an author is someone for whom nothing is uninteresting, nothing is "boring," who pays attention to the world; an author is someone for whom the small and apparently trivial or provincial have their own fascination; an author is someone who remembers what others forget; an author is someone who sees significance and connection in a world which is all-too-ready to throw things away, forget, conceal, or ignore them. As well as an editor, Ian was a unique and brilliant journalist, who understood the importance of memory, preservation and the interconnectedness of things. Rather than writing about "now" in isolation, his journalism is also about how that now connects with the past. This is surely the very best of journalism - to understand "now" in context, not as an isolated symptom. His wonderful book of essays The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (2009) explores its subjects from four dimensions, connecting the personal and the political, the now with the then. Ian's work is the place, I think, where journalism and creative non-fiction meet - politically-informed, fascinating, wise, and beautifully written. 

I will miss Ian a lot, as will the writing world in general, which needs more enthusiasts like him. I feel sorry not to have seen him in the last few years. But I do feel very lucky to be able to count him as one of my mentors, and to think of myself as one of his many proteges. 

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