October 27th, 2003

The Big Read

Author Andrew O'Hagan has attacked the BBC show The Big Read, accusing it of being "anti-literary".

The Big Read, for those of you not in the UK, is a BBC series where the UK's population have voted for their 100 favourite books. These have then been whittled down to a final list of 21 (only one book by any author allowed within those, though that's broken somewhat; only one of the Harry Potter books is listed, but Philip Pullman has His Dark Materials on there, which is a series of three books and not a single book in its own right). There's a series running at the moment where various celebrities extol the virtues of their favourite book from the list; more voting is going on to find the favourite one from the shortlist, with Lord of the Rings currently the bookies' choice to take the title, with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Pride and Prejudice close behind.

I honestly can't see what the harm is in running such a show based on public opinion. It's not going to be holding out whichever book gets the votes as the best book of all time, merely the public's (current) favourite. I'm of the opinion that anything which gets people talking about books and/or reading, and maybe encourages people to read more, is a Good Thing - but O'Hagan, and other authors including Adam Mars-Jones (in whom I'm disappointed, since I've actually read some of his stuff and enjoyed it), seem to think that we should only be talking about the right books. (I might even suggest that they would rather people talked about their books. Whatever else I might say about Mars-Jones' writing, it isn't likely to appeal to the mainstream population of the UK.)

Sour grapes, gentlemen. Sour grapes.