For those who have artfully managed to dodge the latest literati hoi polloi, this year's Man Booker longlist of 112 novels has been reduced to a shortlist of 19. Ask me to name a title on the list and my mind flits to the 20% off sticker on the Rough Guide to Turkey I picked up last month from Waterstone's. If pushed to name an author I could squeak out a Smith or well, a Rushdie as already evidenced. Names that are safe bets when pressed, in the same way Shakespeare is for quotes and Michael Jordan is for sport.
Which leads me to ask what most of us are thinking but too ashamed to broach: who actually has time to read books anymore? Flights, holidays,and insomnia bouts aside; who finds occasion to keep up with all that is published to be deemed comprehensively, or even shallowly, well read? Sure, we scour newspapers, magazines, websites, and increasingly blogs galore, but rarer is the opportunity to sit down with a book. In fact, rather than unleashing the imaginative spirit, the subject of reading can induce a sense of inadequacy.
We all want to read more, we all say we will read more, but like most things it is the actual getting around to it that bites us every time. And this is not a fictitious intention. Most certainly not. We genuinely do get excitable every Christmas upon receiving the new Julian Barnes novel, the story behind Google's empire, and the latest car book by Jeremy Clarkson, each deftly selected from the 3 for 2 pile in W.H.Smith's. And swept up by the holiday spirit we vow to plow through them by New Year. But then there is Christmas pudding to eat, port to drink, and the Carry On films are on BBC2. Not to worry, tomorrow is another day.
For anyone duly inspired, or just sharing pangs of inadequacy:
On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Paperpack available in UK, will be so in the U.S. end of this month. From £3.99 on www.amazon.co.uk. Hardly a risky recommendation as Zadie's reputation (no not Sadie, she is too busy with her latest toyboy) as one of Britain's most talented young authors comes before her. Although, for a bit of trivia, Zadie's original name was actually Sadie, but she changed it at 14 to give herself a more exotic touch. But, I didn't mention such pretension to turn you away.
On Beauty is a wonderfully funny story centred around the conflict between two families of opposing political and moral sensibilities. Dubbed a homage to EM Forster's Howards End by those who can literary name drop. (A most enviable skill). Should particularly appeal to anyone familiar with NW London or to life inside an academic bubble, as Zadie is to both and like all good authors she writes what she knows.