When I was younger and wasn’t so aware of time’s winged chariot forcing me onto the hard shoulder I would persevere with books I didn’t really like. I’d bought it so I was determined to finish it, as though some omniscient Library Monitor was waiting to stamp my card. Not any more. Let’s face it, there are some books that don’t deserve more than an hour of anyone’s time. Perhaps I’ve written some of them. If so I have every sympathy with any reader who consigns it to the bag of stuff intended for the church fete.
Recently I saw a list of books people buy but can’t get through. Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time was on there, a book I did actually finish although I could not now tell you a single fact I learned from it. Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, volume 17, also appeared on the list. I guess some people never learn. A more surprising entry was Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.
Now here’s a very funny thing. For years and years Hilary Mantel wrote good novels that people enjoyed. She wasn’t in the Dan Brown league of commercial success but she had, deservedly, a following. Then she wrote Wolf Hall, a far more difficult book, and immediately scooped the Booker Prize. It says something about literary prize judges. I’m just not sure what. That they think the rest of us need to pull up our reading socks? That they think ‘difficult’ equals ‘worthy’? That their decisions are made under the influence of recreational drugs? Darned if I know. But Hillary, or at least, one of Hillary’s book elves, has definitely cranked out another one for the church fete.
And she isn’t even President yet.