Time and time again people tell us that books are not for us. They are for the worthy, the few, the elite. Just because you can read doesn’t mean you should, just because you went to university doesn’t mean you are capable of forming an opinion about a book. These comments are followed by the condescending, limited idea that we are never reading the right books, the paternal shake of the head and pitying glance. Leave it to the professionals in their dim lit, wood panelled rooms heavy with the cigar smoke of intellectualism to show you what is worth reading. However don’t let yourself stray from their opinions to actually read the book, just read the review--it’s probably the only way you’ll come to any understanding of a book.
This small minded minority (most book reviewers, academics and general readers are lovely and open minded, helping to guide others in their quest for knowledge) are the people who heap scorn on television presenters who include book segments in their shows. Oprah’s choices were too high brow, too concerned with status, featuring concepts far out of reach for her average viewer. In contrast Richard and Judy are accused of choosing main stream books, with low brow, domestic content. Other crimes include backing books and authors that are already well established, causing a detrimental effect on the development of the book market by diverting a large proportion of audiences to just a few books and not choosing the books themselves.
Really the big problem they have with the couple is that Richard and Judy are popularising reading, getting a diverse audience interested in well written fiction. While their critics may have previously bemoaned the fact that so many British people prefer football or television over books, they quickly condemn any pro-reading action that actively increases reading. Where would they be if everyone started reading, who would they sneer at? Still as the gate keepers of the secrets they can always assert that these newly initiated readers are not reading the right thing or are participating in the wrong way. In my mind Oprah’s case proves this view as she recommended American classics, which few could argue are bad for the reader and yet she was still reprimanded for picking the wrong kind of books for her audience. A TV book club is an easy target for these sort of generalised, unproveable vagaries, as everyone knows that television is a simple media for those with slow minds.
Now almost every reader has book snobberies. If someone recommended Victoria Beckham’s ghost-written book to me or Katie Price’s novels I might smile politely and discreetly look for the labotomy scars. I might give my own opinion of these books. However I am not about to stand up and bully the same person into recognising that my opinion is right and they are wrong, just as I wouldn’t over any other issue. People who peer at your stickered book cover on a train and then announce loudly that they wouldn’t be caught dead reading a Richard and Judy or an Oprah book are obviously looking for a fight. They think they’ve won before they begin and if those of you who like to make your own decisions (and get a bit of peace on public transport) don’t have arguments to hand your silence will convince them that they have converted you. Their smug faces everywhere would make it increasingly difficult to concentrate on your reading. So as these book interrupters; those who scorn contemporary literature, those who think that no one understands the symbolism of Jane Eyre’s red room as well as they do, bear down on you show your teeth and counter every argument they have. You won’t change their minds but hopefully they will go away, leaving you with your book and a gleeful mind.