It's this headline I found in the Guardian the other day that got me off:
BOOKER PRIZE RIVAL LAUNCHED 'FOR WRITERS WHO ASPIRE TO SOMETHING FINER
"The publishing world has launched a rival to the Man Booker Prize, claiming that Britain's foremost literary award has dumbed down beyond recognition.
The organisers of the newly-formed Literature Prze accused the Booker of putting ‘readability’ before artistic merit." [MY ITALICS]
In a swipe at this year’s judging panel, which is chaired by the ex-MI5 chief turned spy novelist Dame Stella Rimington, they announced that their own judges would be experts in the literary field."
Now I admit that for years I stayed away from anything that had Booker Prize written on it. 'Experts in the literary field' had put me off.
Then someone persuaded me to read the 2009 winner, Wolf Hall. Have you seen this book? If you threw it at a cop you could get arrested for assault. It's the size of a small caravan. I thought I'd read a few pages then use it as a doorstop.
But from the first page I couldn't put it down. I read all 650 pages (and author's note and interview) in a week without speed reading or skipping. Okay not everyone liked it because they didn't think there was enough action. No there wasn't; but it was eminently readable. I apologise for being such a prole as to want to enjoy the reading experience. What a dumbass I am.
So what was it that was dumbed down about Hilary Mantel? Because it was historical fiction perhaps? Because she didn't spend a whole page describing a vase?
Sorry, but I would like to take the stand for the defence here. Your Honour, I say being readable is an art form. Being dense and difficult to follow is not.
Question: was Shakespeare dumbed down? He played to the crowd, he was even popular. He also gave us some of the most beautiful works in the English language, picking up a thirty thousand word vocabulary along the way.
Question: Do I have to understand the arguments about Michelangelo's intentions in creating the Pièta to be moved by it?
In my view there is nothing finer than readability. If you can be readable and achieve high prose distinction then you're reaching high art. But if you don't attempt to be readable then it's personal indulgence on the printed page. And they have a word for that.
Sorry but have you tried to read The Satanic Verses? I have. I have also seen it on countless bookshelves but have you yet found someone's who's actually finished it? People keep it on their bookshelves to impress people. If the ebook revolution takes off what will we do? Wave our Kindles around on the tube?
The Lauding of Difficulty puts too many people off reading. Books should not be an intellectual exercise but a common ground, the sharing and understanding of our human experience, a universal campfire where we gather to tell our stories.
Not a Mensa puzzle.
I believe our highest literary awards should celebrate what is truly excellent in all genres; not just the best of one genre, like literary fiction.
What do you think? Am I out of order? Feel free to abuse me. Or does intellectual snobbery in some elements of the publishing industry stick in your craw as well? Write in and let me know what you think!