I have to say that I really enjoyed reading this and I hope you do to. I think he’s right, they could be doing more, a lot more. I have written previously that the books are not even chosen by them but by their producer. No doubt this will continue when they switch channels next year to UKTV.
The novelist Andrew O’Hagan has accused television presenters Richard and Judy’s book club of treating their readers as stupid.
The attack was made at an Edinburgh International Book Festival event where O’ Hagan criticised the presenters’ limited selection of titles and accused them of missing a unique opportunity to promote good writing to a vast audience.
‘We have an industry where we have a Richard and Judy culture,’ he said at a debate on whether or not the novel is overrated. ‘Certain totemic elements, certain gongs must been struck for a novel to be worthy of presentation to a mass audience. This is a coarsening.
‘[The Richard and Judy book club] is a wasted opportunity … They have a massive captive audience of people who aren’t completely undiscerning; they aren’t stupid. Why are they treating them as if they are stupid? There is an opportunity to use that connection to turn a generation on to good writing.’
He said that this had worked in America. ‘We know it isn’t impossible because Oprah Winfrey did it in America. I know she introduced a lot of cack, but along the way she had them reading Tolstoy and Jonathan Franzen – who wasn’t happy to be read but that was inverted snobbery. You can’t wave a wand over the audience for Richard and Judy and say: “You should be reading Kafka”. It is a lifestyle show, but these books oversell a reduced, unimaginative notion of what people’s literary enjoyment might be. If they were to up it just a little bit, that might be good news.’
The debate, which included Booker Prize-winner Anne Enright, and Nicholas Spice, publisher of the London Review of Books, condemned what Spice called ‘a kind of low-grade literary rapping that goes on a great deal in the contemporary novel’. O’Hagan, author of The Missing and The Atlantic Ocean, was the most outspoken on the ‘fripperies’ of bad modern novels.
He added that he was disappointed by students taking creative writing courses, and recalled a visit to one such course at a famous institution, thought to be the school run jointly by Glasgow and Strathclyde universities. He complained that some students were more interested in finding an agent in the United States than in improving their writing.
‘When you speak to students, if you teach on a creative writing course, often what you find is that they are not interested in life at the level of the sentence,’ he said. ‘When you try to activate some interest, they find that slightly distracting. What they want to talk about is what it would be like to be a famous novelist.’
Willy Maley, founder of the Creative Masters course at Glasgow University, said: ‘Andrew has been twice to speak at Glasgow, but I don’t think you can judge people on the silly questions. If he saw people working, they work at the level of the sentence, the phrase, and the word.
‘But I agree that Oprah has been able to sell more edgy literature, and if you don’t have the Booker prize, popular culture like Richard and Judy can help.’
A spokesman for Richard and Judy was not available.
So what do you think about the Richard and Judy Book Club books?
Some of them I liked and some I wondered how they ever got published, but you know that’s the great thing about books, they affect everyone differently. We have a very active book group with a great bunch of people who all like different types of books – from “worthy literature” to brain candy. The great thing is we have a wonderful place set up where we can all talk about them in a safe and friendly atmosphere.
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