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30 October, 2005

Have you read...?

The BBC reports that Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Amélie, A Very Long Engagement) is to direct a film version of the Booker Prize-winning novel 'Life Of Pi'.  I've enjoyed his films and Yann Martel's book, so this sounds interesting.

Coincidentally, the novel was cited in discussion at the Guardian, following the publication of a survey which claims that 'one in three has bought a book just to look intelligent'.

Andrew Dickson:

If the figures are to be believed, only one in 20 people have actually got through Yann Martel's bestselling The Life of Pi, while fewer than one in 25 of us, though we queued up to buy it in our millions, have bothered to cut through the magic-realist thickets of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children.
Several comments from readers reinforce the assertion that 'Life Of Pi' (at least get the title right, Mr. Dickson) is practically unreadable.

I'm astonished. I certainly wouldn't claim to be a great intellect, but didn't find 'Life of Pi' remotely 'difficult', and enjoyed it. Similarly, 'Midnight's Children' is amongst my all-time favourite books, possibly because it's not merely frothy, throwaway light entertainment.
If the most a book provides is a reason to move one's eyes whilst sunbathing, or a means of merely killing time, why bother? Time is immensely valuable to me; I try to invest rather than just spend it. For me, entertainment isn't 'down time', nor a reason to disengage my brain.
I hope it's obvious that I don't go to the opposite extreme and actively seek 'challenging' books – life's too short for that, too.

Undeniably, one does take a few minutes to slip into a mindset receptive to Rushdie's written style. I remember finishing a very readable sci-fi novel once, then starting 'The Moor's Last Sigh' at the same pace – it was like sprinting into a stone wall. Rushdie's prose style and almost playful use of language can't be hurried, and I don't understand why anyone would wish to. Yet, even having said that, I wouldn't describe 'Midnight's Children' as linguistically challenging or inaccessible. To a patient reader, it flows wonderfully. For ****'s sake, it's fun!

I can't avoid the suspicion that the Guardian discussion is dominated by reverse snobbery, the participants attempting to distance themselves from the initial 'artificially high-brow' pretension by affecting disdain for anything perceived as elitist. To avoid association with one herd, they embrace another. The underlying intention is the same: asserting that "I'm special, me" whilst taking elaborate care to avoid alienating ones' peer group – the very definition of bourgeois.

I can honestly say I've never bought a book in order to display it on a bookshelf or to say anything about myself, not least because I don't give a **** about the opinions of (many) others, and certainly no-one so shallow as to consider books as mere status-symbols. That's certainly not to say I've completed every book I've ever bought – I've been on p.258 of 'Crime And Punishment' for 3-4 years –, but I bought it because I genuinely want(ed) to read it.

One thing the Guardian discussion doesn't mention is the converse. I wonder how many people who'd buy the latest award-winning novel with minimal expectation of even opening it would recoil from the very idea of reading anything perceived as populist, such as a Terry Pratchett book. Admittedly, I've gone-off the early Discworld novels, and 'Monstrous Regiments' was disappointing, but the snobs are missing out on quality literature in books such as 'The Fifth Elephant', merely because of empty reputation.

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