[Katherine] McNAMARA: There is a cohesiveness and an intelligence to your list: it seems to me the literature of a refined or observant taste.
BOYARS: Well, it has quality. That is always hard. These are things I like; fortunately, enough readers agree with me. Of course, there have been many failures.
McNAMARA: Esthetic failures?
BOYARS: No: I’m not sorry I’ve published any books that are on the list. I’ve published books I thought would sell well, and they didn’t: I still find them interesting. There has been some attempt by me to share something that I like, and shape the culture.
One of my best authors is Ivan Illich (MEDICAL NEMESIS, etc). He shares my ideas about authority and responsibility. What he says is not: “You shouldn’t go to the doctor.” What he says is: “You are responsible for your own health.” He doesn’t attack doctors, he attacks the medical establishment.
A lot of people minded that he wouldn’t tell them how to live. They came to him with problems; he said: “You solve it.” That’s all. I admire that, because it was so easy, so easy, to have done the opposite, when he could have become president of the world at the time, he was so popular. Extraordinarily modest man. Yet, Cuernavaca was the most undemocratic place you can imagine. He’s very authoritarian. He’s very severe, in many ways. But also, the people around him would of course take care of him, protect him.
We published his recent lectures a little while ago [IN THE MIRROR OF THE PAST: Lectures and Addresses 1978-1990]. He’s putting together another volume, and I said, “Yes, I’ll publish it.” He’s such a beautiful man. And it was a terrific adventure, publishing him in an active way. But it was also very hard work.
From Boyar's unfinished essay about Illich, in which she calls him "the most severe and uncompromising taskmaster I have ever met":
In my publishing career, I have had fantastic privleges meeting some of the best minds in literature, music, and philosophical thought. Do I fall into hero worship, too? Yes, up to a point. Do I think Illich is the devil incarnate? Sometimes. If one is allowed to love a mind, I plead guilty. If loving the mind one loves the man, so be it.
A passage from the introduction to the interview excerpted up top, here:
Marion Boyars, director of her firm, was a tiny woman of indeterminate age and bright, sharp eyes. Her mouth was handsome; she smiled widely and often. Her voice was soft but emphatic, her accent not quite placeable; she was born in America but in 1950, had come to England to live, and had adapted its form to her intention. She was pleased her visitor did not mind the smoke.
Acquaintance was made, the tape recorder set up, the cigarette lit, the invitation given to go ahead. She was asked to reflect on why she became a publisher.