Earlier this week I was thumbing through a range of books published by The Economist in a publisher while waiting to see someone. Not as dull as it sounds. The pocket World in Figures 2013 includes a cornucopia of country profiles that blows away myths, even if what came floating into my mind was the pastiche Fifty Sheds of Grey.
The news last weekend from Quetta was terrible, at least 84 members of the Shia Hazara community died and 169 were injured in a massive explosion aimed at a minority community caught up in sectarian violence by Sunni militants.
Trying to recall why Mohammed Hanif’s wild head of hair rang literary bells, it dawned on me that he has a passing resemblance to Alexander Dumas, he of The Three Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo: adventurist par excellence of the gripping yarn, across whose pages hurtle female serial poisoners, political prisoners, hashish eaters, thieves and vagabonds, those of political dark arts, women who refuse to give up.
When Max Hastings was editor of the Evening Standard, he used to say that there were two responsibilities of newspapers: not to cause unnecessary alarm or fear (‘45 minutes from attack’ occurred under the editorship of Veronica Wadley) and not to inflame public prejudices.
The best publishing tale of the 90s comes from Jeremy Lewis who found himself one Thursday while an editor at Chatto with a bundle of notes, scribbles on the backs of envelopes and diagrams of family trees from one of his authors. ‘My book about the Indus,’ explained Imran Khan handing them over.
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