DAN Brown has a new book out this week. I confess I am underwhelmed.
I’ve never laid a finger on The Da Vinci Code, let alone read it. Do I sound like a snob? Maybe that’s because I am one. But as a grown-up who’s read too many of those “how many novels can one person read in their lifetime” type features I cannot be complacent. Reading time is precious and I don’t want to waste it on Brown when I haven’t savoured all of Dorothy Parker.
That, however, doesn’t make me Michael Gove. In a speech in Brighton last week, Gove said too many children were “only too happy” to read Stephenie Meyer. Yes, that’s right, too many happy children happily reading books – it is an outrage, it must be stopped. According to him, 17-year-olds should be reading Middlemarch rather than Meyer. Oh what rot. Has he even read Eliot’s masterly meditation on marriage? As Virginia Woolf stated, it is a novel for grown-ups, just as Tristram Shandy is a novel for English undergraduates trying to get their heads around self-reflexive narratives and Hemingway is a novelist for hipsters in bars trying to look cool.
I don’t choose to read Dan Brown or Danielle Steele for that matter, but I don’t want to ban anyone else from doing so. If novels with embossed covers, liberally sprinkled with glitter or sprayed with what’s supposed to look like blood are your bag, then help yourself, I say. Gove’s “There’s a literary canon, don’t you know?” schtick doesn’t just leave me cold, I think it’s stupid.
My proof? The torrent of tweets it provoked from people laying into literary classics. The Brontes took a pasting. Joyce was lambasted. Hardy hammered. Harsh, I reckon. And sad. But that’s what happens when even great novels are force fed to recalcitrant readers.
For once I felt grateful that my love of literature was developed as far from the canon as can be. It was by way of dog-eared Agatha Christie novels that had been left in our caravan by strangers and a handful of Choose Your Own Adventure books that were a freebie. Not exactly a leather-bound library of Dickens. But that’s not what it’s about. When you’re finding your way with books, what matters is learning to love reading, not what you read. It’s about finding pleasure in the act of being silently absorbed by words on a page. There’s plenty of time for Middlemarch.
A class apart?
ALMOST two-thirds of young people entering journalism are from middle-class “professional” families. Just 3 per cent have parents classified as “unskilled”. Largely this is because to get a foot in the door, you have to work for free, sometimes for months or years. Only kids with parents who can subsidise this get in. Who cares? Well, we all should because if newspapers are produced by people of only one class then the chances they’ll offer a balanced view of how things are for all of us are about the same as David Moyes’ chances of living up to Alex Ferguson.
Praise for Keira Knightley
HEAR me, hear me! What follows is a positive statement about Keira Knightley. If you look at magazines for the past, oh, forever years, you’ll see this is a rare event indeed. What prompts my paean? Only that Ms Knightley has tied the knot in the South of France without a throne, a Cinderella carriage or a wedding dress that cost as much as the trams in sight. OK, it was at her £1.9 million farmhouse, but she travelled there in a Renault Clio. Credit where credit’s due. «
• Last week Claire... saw an exhibition of Sarah Lucas’s work and it made her laugh and gasp and feel slightly weird. A good result she reckons