Sunday, August 06, 2006


No Novel Ideas

From Bill Bryson's 'Notes From A Small Island':

'I had only recently recovered from a fairly serious bout of pneumonia. I won't say that I nearly died, but I was ill enough to watch This Morning With Richard And Judy, and I certainly didn't want to be in that condition again'.

My own feelings about the self-appointed king and queen of daytime television are scarcely less forceful, and so when I watched their afternoon programme this week, it was with a good deal of trepidation.

What came on was their book review segment. Now, this I have somewhat mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I can quite see that anything which gets the nation reading is naturally positive in nature. They were busy boasting that the books they've recommended have shot straight to the top of the charts.

The trouble with this is that it all contributes to the damaging way books are sold in this country. Waterstone's are now the only major book chain on the high street, and so this in itself has a natural impact on choice, and the success of Richard and Judy's campaign only slims down the options still further. Instead of millions of different people having different and varied reading experiences, they are guided towards a mere handful selected more or less at random. I don't suppose for a minute these are best books of the year - though to be fair, I haven't read any of them - so by what process are they picked?

I guess my point is it seems a shame that they should have such a large effect on book sales, when they have so little qualification for passing on judgement. The discussion about one of the novels that followed was superficial to say the least, and mostly consisted of anecdotes about the celebrity reviewers' holidays. When they did touch on the book, the reviewers were in large part just concerned with the pace of the plot. By that standard, 'Wuthering Heights' is one of the worst novels ever published.

Go to a book shop, and buy a novel that you want to read, not one you've been told to.

Ah yes but surely only reading books that have achieved Orange prize nomination is the same process?

I think whatever leads you to read a book that you enjoy is a positive thing. However, the books chosen by R and J are mostly targetted at the middle aged women: surely the greatest most convincing reason for steering clear!
I think you've covered this sort of thing before.
Last time I railed on about how hype fuels best sellers far more than any other virtue they might have.
Like "Harry Potter".
Middling, derivative, been-there-done-that fantasy written in a style appropriate for teenagers (provided they are average readers), there's no reason in the world why any Fantasy reader should even consider picking one up.
Yet millions do; will any of them go on to read more sophisticated or original fantasy? Perhaps not, but if someone starts by reading a decent but middling book on the recommendation of some stupid talking head, then perhaps the new readers might finish hungry for more books, and perhaps will explore the stacks and find better fare next time.
Happy - Arguably. The only real difference is that those shortlisted for awards are generally better.

SafeT - If people read a bad book and it makes them pick up a good book, then the bad book has done some good. However, if it turns people off reading forever, it obviously hasn't. I think the problem here is really that it's impossible to prove - or even accurately guess - either way.
i guess sometimes it's hard to gamble since you don't want to spend your time reading something that you thought was good but ended up not.. so i take advices from guys in webdate*com.. their suggestions worked for me well..
Well, that's just the thing. If you can find a place where the people's taste corresponds to your own, then that's a good start. Though obviously, it's much better if it's good, and something you wouldn't have heard of anyway.

What have they been recommending?
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