Back when I was young, lists seemed like fences on the open range. But secretly I was pleased to be corralled among other literary thoroughbreds. Did being on Granta’s first-ever list 30 years ago make a difference to anything other than my ego? You bet. The street-cred it established helped me get the job of literary editor at the JC, and probably persuaded the BBC that I was a suitable candidate for their BBC2 show, Bookmark.
As it happened, the novel at the heart of the documentary they made — Blood Libels —- was set in the offices of a paper called the Jewish Voice, for which the old JC building in Furnival Street stood in.
But by far the greatest benefit came as a result of the group photograph, taken by Lord Snowdon no less. After the session, I approached the Queen’s brother-in-law with a copy of his autobiography and asked him to sign it for my mother. “To Betty,” he wrote, “with best wishes for your birthday, from Snowdon”. I took care to deliver it when the neighbours were present, and for once managed to be the source of naches squared.
Every decade, the photograph resurfaces, when a new generation is chosen, and there we stand unaged, no older than this year’s crop, full of books as yet untranslated from thought. I was the only Jew among them in 1983, but in a sense we were all Jews, chosen people, prophets with honour. We knew it was arbitrary, but being anointed sure did help.