In conversation with

Seb Emina

Editor-in-Chief at The Happy Reader, Deputy Editor at Fantastic Man

emissaries guide to worlding-seb-emina

Introduction

Introduction

“Classic literature,” says Seb Emina “is an endless goldmine of brilliant topics, glorious turns of phrase and genius visual inspiration”. Lucky Seb, whose role it is to play with literature as Editor of The Happy Reader. A collaboration between Penguin Book and Fantastic Man, the quarterly magazine is split into two parts: the first is an interview with a famous bookworm; the second takes an in-depth look at a classic. They’ve interviewed Hans-Ulrich Obrist, Jarvis Cocker and Lily Cole while opening up flowers in Mrs Dalloway, maps in Treasure Island and royal thrones in the Black Tulip. This should be a good storylist…

Question and Answer

Were you always a reader? Any specific books you remember engaging with as a child?

Always. Some children are natural swimmers, but I was a natural reader. I had a particular love for mystery and magic, for incredible worlds beyond our own. Books by authors like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Tove Jansson and Alan Garner appealed to me far more than the earthbound japes of, say, the Famous Five. I loved anything with talking animals: Watership Down, The Wind in the Willows, Redwall, Woof.

"I loved anything with talking animals"

What took The Happy Reader from an idea to a reality?

It grew out of a conversation between Penguin Classics and Fantastic Man about what would happen if the latter took their way of making magazines and applied it to the former.

It grew out of a conversation between Penguin Classics and Fantastic Man about what would happen if the latter took their way of making magazines and applied it to the former.

The Happy reader is a partnership between Fantastic Man (where you are Deputy Editor) and Penguin. Do you see it as brand content or editorial?

As editor-in-chief I only think of The Happy Reader in editorial terms — my preoccupation is the reader, not the brand. That said, the magazine is set up in such a way that if the reader is happy then the brand is too. It’s devious in that way.

What do you think a magazine format brings to classic works of literature?

Sometimes I describe it as a ‘magazine-shaped book club’. We choose one book which acts as inspiration for each issue, and announce it in advance. There’s a great thrill to be had from reading along with others, and if you read the Book of the Season it magnifies the pleasure of looking through an issue. Then there’s the reverse of your question: what do classic works of literature bring to a magazine format? And the answer is: amazing ideas. Classic literature is an endless goldmine of brilliant topics, glorious turns of phrase and genius visual inspiration. Even if you never read the associated books, you can still very much enjoy their magazinified manifestation.

seb emina editor the happy reader

What have been some of your favourites responses to a book that you’ve published?

It’s hard to choose to be honest. Visually I always linger over Ola Rindal’s dreamy photographs in issue 3 where he went to Corsica on the trail of Dorothy Carrington’s travel classic Granite Island. I adore Matthieu Lavanchy’s still lives of flowers in issue 7, inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway. That issue includes a piece of writing that blows my mind, namely Douwe Draaisma’s explanation as to why time speeds up as you get older. The new issue has a darkly witty piece by Deborah Levy about an old neighbour of hers that I’d recommend to anyone. But every issue contains its gems.

the happy reader 3
"I always linger over Ola Rindal’s dreamy photographs in issue 3"

Which author – dead or alive – would be your dream contributor for The Happy Reader?

I think Javier Marías would be pretty cool.

“Life is a very bad novelist. It is chaotic and ludicrous.”

Javier Marías

What do you look for in a pitch?

Something quite specific, so I can make out a fascinating story that I’m dying to read. Something surprising that excavates an element of the book in a way that makes you go “aha!” and ties it into the wider world.

What are your three favourite books from the past year and why?

The Discovery of France by Graham Robb – An amazing book about the various idiosyncratic peoples who until quite recently inhabited the landmass we know as ‘France’. Full of stories that make you want to turn to the stranger next to you on the train and go, “blimey did you know that…”

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante – A brilliantly written and stunningly realistic portrayal of a break-up, and the emotional collapse it instigates.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley – This will be winter’s Book of the Season. So prescient, like a garbled premonition of what the next two hundred years would contain, written, somehow, by an eighteen-year-old.

frankenstein shelley
"So prescient, like a garbled premonition of what the next two hundred years would contain, written, somehow, by an eighteen-year-old."

How do you decide what to read next?

Something belches forth from a fermenting mulch of recommendations, former purchases and current preoccupations.

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