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Thursday, 1 March 2007

World Book Daze

The poll for World Book Day, as published in today's Guardian, lists the 100 books that voters "could not live without". No poetry (or philosophy, essays, Freud, Marx, Darwin, or OED). "Books" has obviously become - in most minds - a debased concept that means "novels". And, not just any kind of novels. Three kinds, basically: a) books for children; b) classic books read in school; and c) recent non-literary airport-type genre fiction. The list is wearyingly familiar, almost as bad as one of those clone town high streets we hear so much about in Britain. It is a clone mind, or clone library. The fact that the top "100" has space for the Harry Potter books, Birdsong, and The Time Traveller's Wife is just dumb. They're in the top 20! The Great Gatsby is only at 22; The Da Vinci Code is one place ahead (at 42) of One Hundred Years of Solitude. On what denuded moonscape of the mind is Dan Brown something a reader cannot live without?

There is so much excitement about reading, about literacy, we forget that most people are dunces. Most readers are people. Therefore, most readers are dunces, too.

This is an elitist position. I see no alternative to it. Otherwise, we might as well just let the philistines have their own country.

A list of 100 top books without any Yeats, or Frost, or Eliot, or Wordsworth - that's sad. Also, the absence of Graham Greene seems odd, too.

One piece of good news, though, which has not been noticed by the UK media, is that three Canadian authors make the top 100. And two of those are in the top 50! LM Montgomery and Atwood come in at 46 and 48. Martel is at 51.

This is ironic, because the British think they find Canada boring. But there is no Australian or Irish writer in the top 50. That's right, in the top 50 books, no Joyce, no Wilde. Ulysses is at 75. At 68: Bridget Jones's Diary. Who are these people, who voted?

But the good news is, to repeat, readers are finding Canadian authors, and finding them indispensable.
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