Saturday 10 November 2012

Autonomy, book of the year

Autonomy_coverAt the well-attended memorial meeting for our writer Colin Ward, Daniel Poyner approached me saying he was looking for a publisher for a collection of covers of the journal Anarchy, edited for a decade by Colin Ward from 1961-1970. To an outsider, the thought of a book comprising 118 covers of a long-defunct magazine that never sold more than 3,000 copies, that would have to be in full colour, might seem deranged even by the standards of small presses. I gave it serious consideration. I am not the only person who came to politics later than the life of the journal who has a near complete run of Anarchy. The journal had influence; Colin Ward brought in writers who were exploring new ideas on practical issues like adventure playgrounds, libertarian education.... Colin had no time for what he called "tittle tattle", the internecine squabbles endemic on the left. This was a journal of practical anarchy, described by the late Raphael Samuel as "...represent[ing] better than any other publication the cultural revolution of the 1960s; and it did so far earlier than anyone else and ... more thoughtfully".
I was tempted but was concerned that the cohort of sociologists, planners, educators and anarchists interested in the magazine was small and ageing. How could I sell enough copies to avoid terrible losses?
I am glad to say that Daniel Poyner found a better way, by publishing the book with the excellent design and typography specialist press Hyphen, with what is clearly heavy involvement by Hyphen's Robin Kinross - because there is the second market, which I did not think of, those who will cast a designer's eye over the covers, mostly by Rufus Segar. And what a job Hyphen has done with the book! Every cover is reprinted, in colour, front and back together with essays by Raphael Samuel on Anarchy, an interview with Rufus Segar and an essay by Richard Hollis (who runs a small part of the Five Leaves list) on the magazine's layout and typography. That essay alone is a masterful run through of how design, typography and printing worked in those days of hot metal. The work is completed by an index to the journal by Robin Kinross, which will certainly lead some readers to start looking around for old copies.
As it happens, I have a few spare, held back for swaps for my own missing numbers. Get in touch if you have any going spare yourself...
The book is called Autonomy, the title Colin originally wanted for the journal. He was, I think correctly, over-ruled by his colleagues at Freedom in favour of Anarchy (Freedom was in 1961 a weekly paper, which then moved to three times a month with Anarchy appearing on the fourth week). The book is not cheap - £25, but that is for a large format paperback with french flaps, 304 pages and 303 illustrations, all but ten in colour. It is worth it.
With a couple of months still to go, I can safely say that this will be my book of the year. Further information from
Though Autonomy is now available, it will be launched at Housmans Bookshop on Saturday 9th February at 6.30, together with the Five Leaves book (also already out)  Talking Green, twelve lectures by Colin Ward. Daniel Poyner will present his book and there will be contributions by Ken Worpole on Colin's life and work and Richard Hollis on Rufus Segar's design. Rufus will be there, as will Harriet Ward.

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