I’m a big fan of the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. However, there’s one thing that happens almost every time it’s on that exasperates me as a writer (and, in fact, as a reader). But it’s also quite fascinating and revealing, and I’d like to talk about it a bit now.
For those of you who are too cool to listen to such a hopelessly mainstream station, I’ll briefly explain what happens. Every couple of weeks, Simon Mayo and his team on the drive time show pick a book to discuss with the author. You get the impression that a fair amount of thought goes into the choice of book, and that Mayo himself and his team (particularly Matt the sports guy) are fully engaged in this. Mayo’s questions are thoughtful and reflect the fact that he is an accomplished writer himself.
There is also a democratic element to the Radio 2 Book Club, in that listeners can apply to become reviewers themselves. Following the initial part of the author interview, Mayo plays a recording of the thoughts of three of these listener reviewers, and this is where it gets exasperating/fascinating/revealing (take your pick). Because the first thing that ALMOST EVERY SINGLE REVIEWER starts off by saying is:
I wouldn’t normally have picked up this book but…
following which they go on to say how much they LOVED reading it. There’s probably a drinking game to be constructed around this, although I’d probably end up getting hammered every other
Tuesday Monday night. I could be wrong but this week I think all three fitted this template, and it wasn’t the first time either.
It’s such a shame. There is such a variety of books out there to be read and yet too often we stick to our own comfortable little silos. I know of people who only read crime. I know of people who only read romance. I know of people who NEVER read science fiction. I know of people (mostly retired men) who only read non-fiction. I know one chap who only reads biographies of Formula One drivers, which is about as niche as you can get.
We seem to base our cultural lives on the mantra “if you liked this, you’ll love this”, whereas life would be so much more interesting if we adopted a principle of “if you liked this, try something completely different next time”. (I wonder if the experience of being a Radio 2 book club reviewer has changed any of the participants’ approaches to reading, incidentally. Do get in touch if you’re one and it has.)
Maybe I’m overreacting. I’d hate to presume to prescribe what people should or shouldn’t be reading. Also, it’s not as if I’m entirely in the clear myself. If I look at the books I’ve read so far this year, the male authors still lead the female ones, even if the differential is marginally smaller than in previous years (28 male, 20 female plus 6 mixed anthologies). And I’m almost too embarrassed to state the number of books by persons of colour. Well, OK, it’s 2. I REALLY have to do something about that…
But wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to a point where everyone picked up a book because it sounded interesting or challenging or unusual, and not because it sounded like something they’d read before? Just imagine all those minds being blown.
Then again, wouldn’t it be wonderful to get to a point where everyone picked up a book…