Interview: Robin Ince, the bad book guru
He talks fast, but Robin Ince thinks even faster. Midway through a sentence he leaps two ahead, but such is his intelligence that he never loses his train of thought. If you're on his wavelength, you'll find he makes perfect sense, even if he veers wildly off the topic of his latest book.
Ince, so well-known for being well read that fans beg for reading lists, has penned a new work of his own. But rather than dispensing advice about improving books, Robin Ince's Bad Book Club celebrates the slightly bonkers, the ill-conceived, and, let's be honest, the truly rubbish.
Bookshops are sirens that he cannot resist. His vast collection necessitates double-stacked shelves and a rented storage unit. Until a recent clear-up, towering book stalagmites made his sitting room an obstacle course and potential health hazard for his two-and-a-half-year-old son.
Now, to save you the trouble of tracking down these weird and wonderful tomes, he's written hilariously about killer crab novels, the Christian gynaecological romance "masterpiece" that is Sign of the Speculum, and the less medically attuned romances of Mills & Boon.
Ince devours great books, too, not least in order to get his facts straight for science shows he presents with Brian Cox. He mentions Darwin a dozen times, and Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Kafka.
Does he have special 26-hour days? "Every hour that I'm on my own is pretty much spent reading or writing about what I've been reading," he reckons. A non-driver, he gets much accomplished riding the rails to gigs.
"I don't think these books are bad," he says, "I think they're different. Some are bad bad, and some are good bad. I always return to John Waters, who talks about the fact that you should like high culture and low culture, and miss out the middle ground."
Take those killer crabs. "They're written for the teenage market, for boys who want gross-out horror and some sex, and quite often they like it if the sex ends with gross-out horror. And most adulterers will find their legs amputated by pincers. It's got that moral message."
Readers, I am forced to leave out all the voices and impersonations. I lack the space to replicate the conversational ping pong with every volley launching a fresh topic, from his advice to new comics ("Never put your name into a search engine, especially if you are drunk"), to atheism ("I come from a long line of vicars; if that wasn't going to work, nothing would convert me"), to the works of Emile Zola, his favourite novelist.
"I hate that embarrassment of liking anything that's great. We live in a world where if you say your favourite author is Robert Ludlum, that's fine, but if you say your favourite author is Zola or Kafka, they think you're pretentious. Zola really IS great."People get scared, whether it's of reading Camus or watching Wild Strawberries - they think it might be too much for them. They don't realise that truly great novels and great stories are easy. You don't have to have a giant mind to understand it."
Does he think people are inherently intellectually lazy? "I do get worried. I did a show about giving people better things. If you go back to that kind of Reithian television philosophy - wasn't it Lord Reith who when asked, 'Are you giving the people what they want?' said, 'No! I'm going to give them something much better than that.'"
When people like David Attenborough ran things, he says, they made shows like The Ascent of Man and Civilisation. "And now you look at who's in charge and I cannot believe - and this is why some of my shows get so angry - there are so many amazing things out there, you must go out there! I have this hope, it's this hope you get caught up in which in the end is so disappointing. Like on Twitter, in the end you follow people who are a bit like you and have similar feelings, and people follow you, so after a while you go, 'The world is looking good. Yes. Everyone is in agreement and we are ready now for the revolution.'
"And then of course you realise that's because those are hand-picked people, and you go, I must follow some crazed lunatics, some Fox news obsessives, to give me some balance, to go, 'The revolution may be some time.'"
He's toying with the idea of giving away his bad book collection - all except the killer crustaceans - at the final show of his book tour. Or he might auction them. "Maybe for one of the book aid charities that provide books for developing countries; because I don't want to send these books to them. Imagine! You're running a school in Africa and go, 'Brilliant! Look at these books that arrived - Sign of the Speculum? Vets at Cross Purposes? Did Spacemen Colonise the Earth? This is a disaster!' But maybe we could turn the bad books into good."
I float my belief that the worse the book, the better the film (think of The Devil Wears Prada, or The Godfather), and am rewarded with a digression through the works of John Waters (Ince is a huge fan), culminating in speculation about innocents who love Hairspray and go on to order all of Waters's films. "And the next thing they know, they're watching Divine raping Divine in Female Trouble!"
For Robin Ince, the perfect cultural experience is the one he leaves desperate to tell everyone, "either do not go near that thing, it's the worst thing ever, or come here, I want to show you this."
He fears that complacency is the great trap of middle age. I can't imagine it's one that will ever claim him!
• Robin Ince's Bad Book Club is out from Little Brown; 11.99.He can be seen on the Edinburgh Fringe in the following shows between 7 and 18 August: Robin Ince and Michael Legge - Pointless Anger, Righteous Ire; The GRV, 37 Guthrie Street (2pm, 5); Robin Ince Asks Why, The Canon's Gait (free, 7:15pm); and Robin Ince - Carl Sagan is Still My God, The Canon's Gait (free, 12:10pm).
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Sunday 26 May 2013
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