Saturday, December 6, 2008

Burning Books: really makes you think

A while back The Times published a banner piece by Rod Liddle under the line ‘Burning is too good for them’. Liddle is evidently the thinking man’s thinking man, and without much ado launches into his list of books too callow or just stridently awful to be endured. Anthony Powell kicks things off, before Liddle goes further afield, asking some other cultural arbiters for their own favourites: Aphra Behn gets a mention, as well as Salman Rushdie, Alice Walker, Dostoevsky, and Don Quixote.

What is interesting is that the piece finishes on the forlorn note that perhaps such a robust clearing away of the bores and box-tickers might allow some unjustly overlooked books to be reconsidered (Liddle nominates David Storey, Heinrich Böll and Vladimir Voinovich).

Forlorn is right. The piece generated 91 comments online: by my count, 6 upbraided him as a monster for even suggesting a book might be burnt (“Before you go thinking about burning books read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. Good book, and really makes you think.”) In fact, only 10 have taken him up on his offer to rehabilitate authors, and then usually only to defend Anthony Powell from his singapore whipping earlier on.

In the end, and excluding a few that might be thought to drift from the topic, the remainder of comments are all red-blooded calls for the bonfire, delivered with varying degrees of wit and coherence. We learn that Ian McEwan appeals to “introverted people”, that Catch 22 has “no real plot and not enough laughs”, that Arundhati Roy should just say that it is raining and then get on with it, and that Stephen King should have given up after his “accident”.

My favourite are two successive remarks by a chap in Hyderabad: the first announces “I am not for burning books. How stupid an author is or a book is pales before the enormity of the stupidity of readers who make it a hit.” This is immediately followed by his nominations: Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist and Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code.

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