When did you last see someone reading a book? Not someone you know, just someone you happened to pass who was reading.
Of course, I know it’s not a spectator sport, there wasn’t some point in history where the public used to gather in concert halls or football stadiums and hold mass book reading ceremonies. It’s always been a private activity, which takes place behind closed doors in small groups or in isolation, almost as though there is something shameful about it.
But I do feel that these days I just don’t see people reading books as much as I used to.
All authors inspire me – all of them, good ones, bad ones, self-published, small press, big publisher. I think writing books and stories is a tremendous thing for people to be doing, we hold a mirror up to society, we are its conscience and its soul. That’s no small thing to be involved in.
First thing I want to say is I’m a big fan of Bob Dylan, have been for years, nobody enjoys a bit of Blonde and Blonde or Blood on the Tracks more than me. But I don’t believe he should have won the Nobel Prize for Literature – it’s not the right award for him.
Fans supporting his win are talking about what a wonderful poet he is and what fantastic lyrics he writes, and I couldn’t agree more. He writes and performs wonderful work.
And he has received countless relevant awards for that, endless Grammys, an Oscar, you name it, probably had to build a new wing on his mansion to keep them in. Plus he’s had his mouth stuffed with gold, and he’s been feted for all kinds of stuff he’s not much good at, he’s been lauded as an actor when he can’t act, as a painter when he can’t paint worth a damn.
Sometimes I feel I was born in the wrong century – not in terms of technology, (I like iPhones and I’m looking forward to a car which drives itself) but professionally. I’m a man out of time.
I spent years as a print journalist and then newspapers suddenly and unexpectedly imploded into a puff of dust. When I started as a reporter, and even later as a news editor and editor, it was a reasonable profession akin to others such as teaching in its pay and prospects. These days it seems a dying trade, it’s a children’s crusade and those lured into it often end up desperate either to hang on or to get out. I’ve moved into PR now, there’s plenty of life in that thankfully!
Lots of debate this week as to whether authors should be paid for their appearances at literary festivals.
It’s come about because acclaimed author Philip Pullman took the principled decision to step down from his role as Patron of the Oxford Literature Festival over its failure to pay authors for appearances. Here’s the full story on that in the Bookseller
My view, for what it’s worth, is a big cheer for Pullman and a big pantomime boo for the Oxford festival. I can’t make the basic point better than Pullman did himself. The Oxford festival isn’t some new event, it’s well established. And it pays everybody else involved in the thing. It pays for the marquees it uses, the electricity, the catering, the drinks receptions. It pays salaries to administrators, and publicists and to the people who design and print the programmes.
I don’t read that many bad books, I take no pleasure in them. People sometimes talk about how they are going to gorge on book-junk as though a bad novel is a messy burger and there is a special joy to be gained from swallowing it. Not me.
I like many kinds of fiction and there are great writers in any genre, but I would rather seek out the glittering best of any given type rather than read that which is merely mediocre or indeed plain awful. So I do some research, take advice from people whose taste I trust. Hence I read very few bad books.
I’ve been reading The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat, the case notes of the recently departed neurologist and writer Oliver Sacks. It’s a fascinating book and deeply humane, dealing with the amazing curve balls our complex brains can throw at us when they go wrong.
It’s also very well written by someone who was clearly a great story-teller as well as a great scientist.
Literature festivals seem to be increasingly popular in the UK – big ones attracting thousands of punters, little ones popping up like mushrooms.
Over the last few years, as an author with a couple of books out, I’ve appeared at both kinds – and the first thing I want to say is that I think they are a force for good. Anything which encourages people to cherish books is on the side of the angels in my view. And the ones I have attended have allowed me to flog a few copies of my own books – what author wouldn’t like that?
But something has struck me about literature festivals in this country which is that, increasingly, they don’t bother too much with literature.