Reading and writing

My mate James Burt, recently returned from India, posted a thought-provoking blog here – The Polysyllabic Spree which does raise a lot of questions. What do we want reading to be? That’s reading, the solitary activity, not reading the berkshire town as written by an inveterate texter, by the way.

Well it’s a good question. I’ve always tended to think of reading as an elite activity, possibly because when I was modelling I used to read Tolstoy and the other models used to read knitting patterns (yes, seriously, lots of glamour models could knit for England) which gave me a feeling of superiority related entirely to literature as I knew damn well that was not in any other way superior.
Time rolls on, breasts roll down and become flaps. I become a writer. Now I want reading to be a mass participation activity – the more people read, the more royalties I make and the more likely I am to get my pellucid prose published. Okay, those feelings of superiority appear to have extended to writing as well, somebody slap me!

And then James tells me that Nick Hornby (Nick Hornby?) makes the provocative argument that if the reading age is thirteen, we should accept that point, not get sniffy about ‘good’ literature.


And yet … I am the world’s slowest runner. But I do run. And should I be sniffed at because I run slowly? I think not. I suspect Paul Tergat would guffaw if asked to run at my pace; he probably couldn’t walk that slowly. But does that disenfranchise my claim to be a runner? Again, I think not. The fact that he’s elite and I am sub par doesn’t disallow my claim to be doing what he does (only for shorter distances, and slower, and much less gracefully).

Does this mean that Dan Brown is a writer? Um.

I think I’d better think it out again …

Mini Book Reviews

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – Mark Haddon – my book club completely and unreservedly loved this book. Comments ranged from ‘it gave me a real insight into autism’ through to ‘there was a lot of humour in the novel that surprised me’. The only negative point made was that everybody seemed to swear a lot. There was a bit of debate about whether the neighbour should have intervened in the way she did (no spoilers here, folks!) but generally there was a highly positive response to the novel.

– Joyce Carol Oates – well, I’ve finished. What can I say? I have doubts and dubiety about the process of fictionalising real life (or lives) because I think the grey area of creative non-fiction is close to jeopardising both the richness of fiction and the purity of non-fiction. But this book set aside my doubts and managed to wipe out my dubiety. It is a dense exercise in imagination, breathtakingly powerful, sad and angry and, above all, detailed. The veracity of the account doesn’t matter once you settle into the idea that if Marilyn Monroe were to emerge by Ouija, she would sound like the Oates’ creation. I recommend it. Actually, my literary elitism says that even Tergat style readers might need to pace themselves on this one, but don’t let that put you off if you’re more of a plodder – the journey alone is worth it, and the destination is astonishing. You will never think about Marilyn the same way again.


  1. James Burt
    1st April 2010

    A lot of people I know loathed the Dan Brown book. But I know a couple of other people for whom it’s the only fiction book they’ve read for pleasure.

    I guess the biggest problem with writers attacking Dan Brown is that it suggests other books aren’t like this; if you like Dan Brown then you won’t enjoy ‘good books’. Rather than Dan Brown being the gateway to other books, it becomes a dead end.

    I feel the same way about celebrity novels. I think it’s great that Jordan is writing novels, because better her die-hard fans are reading any book than none at all. (And I’d certainly love to have her readership!)

  2. katie
    1st April 2010

    When I am not being a writer I am being a TV Producer. I produce, mainly, documentaries and current affairs programmes. They are very expensive to make and run at a loss, becuase they do not attract advertising.

    The broadcasters think it is important to have current affairs programmes so we make them and they broadcast them.

    They re-coup the money they lose from doing this by also making and broadcasting reality TV of the Big Brother ilk and / or celebrity dancing programmes.

    These make a huge profit and mean they can afford to make an occasional loss on a decent piece of journalism.

    This is the way the world works – if rubbish reality TV did not exist neither would my documentaries.

    Publishing is similar. Not identical, but similar. If you are a publisher and want to publish high end literature, it probably helps your shareholders a lot if you also publish Jordan’s novels.

    And some people who read Jordan’s novels might just move on to one of the less populist tomes.

    That is all.

  3. PJ
    6th April 2010

    Not quite sure of the issue here: is it whether or not Dan Brown/Jordan should be published, or whether or not Dan Brown/Jordan should be read?

    If the former, I’m not sure who ‘we’ are to ask the question. If the latter, then I’m ambivalent.

    On the one hand, I harbour the prejudice that celebrities who want to write fiction should be prevented from doing so for that very reason, like adolescent boys who want to become policemen or soldiers. Similarly, I don’t think that reading any books is necessarily better than reading none, and I would cite Mein Kampf and Katie Price as fair examples.

    Then again, it’s also abundantly clear that I’m a snob.

    As for shareholders, fuck em, I say (and I think I can fairly claim to have James Joyce and and John Kennedy Toole on my side there).

  4. Anonymous
    8th April 2010

    Yes, yes. Quite so. But since when did your breasts become flaps? My dear, from where I was sitting, I’d say you have an enviable figure.

  5. Kay Sexton
    10th April 2010

    You’re all too clever for me, apart from Anonymous, to whom I can only say that excellent foundation garments are always a worthwhile investment!


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