Patronising or welcoming?

. This week I’ve been reading a book that is crammed full of literary allusions. The chapter titles are taken from classic books, the characters make jokey references to books, and just random lines are lines taken from classic books and poems.

Normally, when I read a book like this, I feel like it’s patronising. I feel as if the author is challenging my intelligence and knowledge, and if I don’t live up to the challenge, the author feels I shouldn’t be reading the book.

Or I feel like the author is showing off how clever they are.

This book (When Will There be Good News by Kate Atkinson) doesn’t feel like it. It feels as if every line I discover and recognise (That’s from Emma! That’s Dickens!) is a delicious joke shared between me and the author. All that she’s assuming about me is that I read and love books. And when I do find a reference I don’t recognise, I don’t feel stupid – I feel as if she is inviting me to discover something wonderful (and this time it was the poem The Last Duchess by Browning, which I now love).

I’m not quite sure how this happened. What makes this patronising when done by one author and delicious and welcoming by another? I would like to do the same thing myself, but am afraid I would give the wrong impression.


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