Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who reads?

In a case of hard to miss but easy to dismiss, the media is inundating us with gossip swirling around the announced longlist of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction , purportedly one of the world's most prestigious literary prizes. And to the every extra inch of column spent on it, I can't help but wanting to ask 'is anybody bovvered'? Go on, call me a philistine, call me bourgeois, call me what you like, but before you get too carried away let me ask you to actually name any book by Salman Rushdie. See my point?

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 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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

But we all do read more...courtesy of access to blogs like this one. Be it on the screen, and normally during work hours (!), or even as we burn the midnight oil, the medium for reading has turned a page....

12:45 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So true City Slicker. I read papers, mags, but rarely fiction anymore

12:49 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this blog. Love it!

12:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read as much as ever (living in e8 gives you plenty of novel time as you trundle into work). I just don't watch TV any more ... can't say I miss it much.

1:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dont read as much as I should and I know it. Definite inadequecy there. I may just pick this book. I saw it on Sunday Times bestseller list. Call me inspired.

1:07 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read every day. Rushdie wrote East, West to name just one. There are many members of the London literary community who would be shocked to know that people no longer have an appetite for fiction.

1:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like the tongue in cheek. As a writer you must read a lot or you can't write. Witty tone.

1:23 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

God don't keep plugging Amazon - I'm a bookseller and you're taking food out of my beautiful childrens' mouths!! Just kidding, go ahead and plug, they're rubbish anyway...

I read at the pace of about 2 books a week. Mostly for the job (I review for one of the book wholesellers), and to be honest when you stop paying for books it's a lot easier to read and read and read. My last book was the new translation of Don Quixote. I wouldn't have normally marked out for a 17th century Spanish ex-convict...but the huge doorstep of a book was damn fantastic, a revelation.

I love my reading, and always feel a bit trendy at getting to read stuff first (usually in proof). When we moved house my dear partner made me get rid of 80% of my book collection amassed over my entire life. Apparently we wouldn't have room in our new tiny house (which is true, I have to say). I'm only allowed to have books in the house that I haven't read. Everything else goes to Oxfam or to friends. I love to pass stuff on.

Down here in quiet Devon...there's lots of people reading books. Mebbe it's just that we have more time than the metropolitans?

The whole technology will crush print idea is bunk. We're up 7% on last year, even with mp3 books and shiny LCD screens and mobiles that flash stuff up a word at a time. It's the same argument from 20 years ago. I have to agree with Max...TV is the thing that's in trouble.

2:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think it must be a London thing but reading is rare. My brother in Wiltshire reads three books a week. We dont read because we dont have the time after spending hours on the bloody Tube.

2:39 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But more people watch Big Brother than read a newspaper. Fact. TV is hardly dead

2:41 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Satanic Verses - Rushdie

2:48 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Max/Shep, TV is going strong even if you two arent tuned in. And is why fewer people get around to reading books.

2:59 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read City Slicker everyday. Does that not count for anything?

3:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On Beauty better than White Teeth by a mile. I second the tip.

3:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool pic. Where do you find them? I read one book all of last year even though I work for a newspaper. Shocker, eh

4:41 pm  
Blogger City Slicker said...

Thanks Shep. I stand accused. Give us an alternative to Amazon, please? And a new translation of Don Quixote, now we are talking..."and thus with little sleeping and much reading his brains dried up to such a degree that he lost the use of his reason." Does that line still stand? One of my favourites. Thanks for reading, CS.

5:21 pm  
Blogger Susan Hill said...

I read at least 6 books a week. And that isn`t counting the books I have to read for an MA or for my small publishing company. I don`t travel much but if I go to London I go by train which is at least 1 book, especially as there are always delays. When I was a student in London I read all the time on the Tube or the bus. There is no obligation on anyone to read anything but if you love it, you do it ... I even get time to watch The Bill too !

5:34 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People who read books a lot often do not read dialy media. They read fiction to escape. I prefer reality with blogs/ podcasts/ websites the lot. Novel readers like to think they are superior pisses me off.

5:40 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

I agree in that it's often hard to find time to read but we still read despite the fact the world and his wife claims to have a blog. And what about the growing number of blogs that are becoming books or blooks (I think the term is).

I belong to a book group so that I'm currently "forced" to read a book a month and what I like about this is that it "forces" me to pick up something that I wouldn't normally select and I've actually discovered some great finds that way (although a number have been ones I wouldn't normally read).

Lately I've found myself going off the Booker shortlist though. I love John Banville and was pleased that he had won, but currently I can't really get into The Sea. I often think that Bookers are given to people who the judges just think ought to win at some point.

What do you think about things like the (now defunct I think) Richard and Judy's Book Club or Oprah's book of the month? Books from these programmed get catapulted to best seller lists far faster than Booker Prize winners.

BTW - I'm currently reading "We need to Talk about Kevin" - heavy going at first but now I'm finding it hard to put down.

6:06 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Booker is for pompous literary egos. Agree Slicker and did wish I had time to read more.

6:40 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

i read and go through daily media like a demon...does this make me uniques? Is I an anomaly?

I don't think so somehow...

7:18 pm  
Blogger ian said...

You mean apart from the Satanic Verses, I assume?
It took me a few minutes, but "Midnight's Children".

I used to read on planes. Apparently that marks me out as a terrorist now, even when it's not Salman Rushdie. I read jpod by Douglas Coupland a month or so ago. And when I used the tube more regularly, I'd read on that.

[Pedant] It's the longlist they've announced. The shortlist of 6? comes later.

8:14 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shep I would say you is weird. How do you find the time? City Slicker is a classic insomniac. R U 2?

10:43 pm  
Blogger Shep said...

Pretty much. I also have too much energy at the moment and it sends me bouncing round books and the internets in a Tigger-like frenzy.

Scary stuff - at 33 this could mean a stroke at least...

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where does the energy come from? I can't keep up. If I read the headlines that is a good day. CS can say the news bylines verbatim.

11:03 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool stuff though. Good topic. Got people ranting always good. MAx, TV is not dead. How else could we watch England crush Greece 4-0??!!
Wah heh!

11:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shep, what's your shop mate? I am down in Devon often enough would be cool to stop in.

12:03 am  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I find that a boring circle line commute has done wonders for my reading time. Fortunately I normally get a seat in the morning and am able to just zone out with book, which, to be honest, is my favourite way of passing the time! I tend to read about 2-4 books a month, depending on length and tediousness (sadly, I seem to pick a few clunkers per year).

As far as the booker longlist goes, I've only read one of them on there, and that was Sarah Waters's The Night Watch , which was quite spectacular. Highly recommended for anyone who's interested in London during the blitz and beyond.

1:44 pm  
Blogger Frankie Paige said...

Hmm, I do find Tube time is a perfect reading time. Otherwise, the commute would drive me crazy.

And the TV had to go. Lifestyle choice. Got books, got newspapers, got radio, got the internet, got DVD club subscription, a couple of cinemas round the corner... who needs TV? Life's just too short for that.

Hugs to all,

10:30 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just finished it. Great recommendation CS. Go out and read it readers. A Bank Holiday must

7:36 am  
Blogger Gareth said...

I'm a 21century librarain, of course I don't read, I just take books of shelves and bin them. (there is actually more truth in the last part of that statement than the first).

I used to read constantly, as there is nothing to do in the welsh country side, then I stopped then I started again, then stopped then started.

I was pleasantly surprised at how good On Beauty was, after the crashingly boring White Teeth.

7:37 am  
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