A few weeks ago, the BBC had what they called ‘World Book Night’, where they celebrated books with a few documentaries, and a terrible adapatation of Brideshead Revisited.
One of the documentaries was called ‘books we really read’ where a ‘celebrity’ who only reads ‘proper books’ (i.e. non-genre, Booker-prize nominated books) read the books us non-clever people read, and tried to understand why we read them.
I did try to watch the documentary, I really did. But the whole thing had a sneering, nasty tone – she genuinely couldn’t understand why people would rather read Steig Larsson or J.K. Rowling than whatever the Booker nominees were that year.
I turned it off when she picked up a Wilbur Smith (an author I haven’t read, but I hear good things about) and said ‘oh dear, an embossed cover. I call these anti-books’. At that point, I became irate, and turned over before I threw something at the telly.
The fact that these genre books usually have decent characterisation, good plots, evocative language and actual emotion seemed to pass her by. (In passing – when was the last time you read a non-genre book where someone said I love you? They don’t anymore, really, do they?)
And the genres she did study were romance and crime. Not a sign of sci-fi, horror or fantasy anywhere, as if these were genres were just below any decent person’s notice.
As you can tell, World Book Night left me fuming – and I’m not the only one.
Genre Authors Attack Sneering World Book Night Coverage
What I don’t understand is this. The people who presumably wrote the documentary happily read Dickens, Austen, Mrs Gaskell. But these are not the Booker prize equivalents of their time. They are the populist authors of their time, that others decried as not being intellectual enough.
I remember in another documentary someone once saying that anxious readers had waited on the docks for the next issue of Old Curiosity Shop and read it there on the quay, desperate to hear if Little Nell lived, and they bemoaned that readers don’t do that now.
But they do. I queued at midnight for the last three Harry Potter books. I didn’t go to bed, I read them straight through.
The presenters of the documentary may not like that we prefer to read genre fiction. That we prefer plot, and people and emotion and eloquence to the disordered ramblings of non-genre books. But they are not the ones that choose which books survive. We are, and I suspect it will be the anti-books – the Rowlings, the Pratchetts, the Reginald Hills, the Wilbur Smiths, and all the authors on those shelves that will be read in 100 years time, not whatever won the Booker this year.
And on a side note – every year, there is one book nominated for the Booker prize I do like – though it never wins. And this year, two of my favourite authors has been nominated for the Booker International Prize, which is for authors rather than general books. But one of them refuses to play…
John Le Carre Rejects International Prize Honour
Good for him, I say. Though I hope either him, or Philip Pullman, actually wins. But they won’t, being genre writers.