Monday, August 28, 2006

Anyone out there?

Mark, the BA cabin crew member in our reading group, has the distinction of once having been taken for a literary device: his job and his babies made it so difficult to turn up to meetings that writer Nick Royle, reading the reports of our discussions on my website, thought that he was my joke and didn't really exist. Well, he does exist, but he's now going to have a new incarnation: back in Manc at the weekend and at a barbecue I discovered that he's giving it all up to set out on a course to become an English teacher. Great! But damn it! He's a literary type after all!

Let me explain. It's always been a source of great comfort to me as a writer that most of the people in our reading group aren't what you might call 'literary types'. There's a furniture maker, a doctor, two scientists, a criminologist, a psychologist, a social work administrator, a textiles conservator and an accountant, and only three of us writers. What it seems to mean is that there are endless readers out there from all walks of life, and that when you write a book (as long as it's published!) you will reach EVERYONE...

But who am I kidding? It's not as if ours isn't a rarified group (all educated, all 'middle class' ), and anyone who reads books is by definition a 'literary type' after all (so Mark's move is hardly surprising). And when I conducted a straw poll of people in pubs and cafes for metropolitan (Issue 6), to try to assess the reading habits of the general public, the results were pretty depressing if hilarious. No one reads nowadays, was the message: 'Books is books, innit?' said one baggy-trousered lad contemptuously, switching his Walkman back on. And when I think of the educated, middle-class neighbours who declined to join the reading group 'because they didn't read'...

Whatever you do, though, don't let this get you down....

3 comments:

Katy Evans-Bush said...

I just don't think reading and class have anytihng to do with each other. Therte is a fine old (if somewhat, I admit, defunct) tradition of working-class self-improvement, a la Arnold Bennett - and think of the advent of the Everyman Library. Amd God lnows loadfs of so-called Middle Clas people only wangt to get a promotion and make a buck. The intelligentsia is a different thing, but reading a best-selling novel doesn't make you a member. I do think reading groups are a wonderful thong, because by belonging to one you are opening yourself up to all sorts of possibilities.

Elizabeth Baines said...
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Elizabeth Baines said...

This is absolutely true, of course. I should have avoided that tricky term 'middle class'. But now that I come to think of it, it does seem to me that in English society there is something of the kind of literary division along class lines which there wasn't in the Wales I came from, where historically education has been more democratic. Plenty of English people would have called many of my Welsh family 'working class'- they were farm workers and lived in lowly cottages - but some of them were teachers and ministers of religion, and there was never any sense I picked up that these latter were more 'improved' than the others, and all of them read books and were fiercely proud of the fact (God knows whether it really was a fact) that my grandmother, an ex-children's nanny,was directly descended from the family of Will Hopkin the Bard...
I married a man from a proudly working-class Northern English family, and one of their major reasons for finding me amusingly 'posh' was the fact that I read novels all the time...

I do think though that the key is education rather than 'class', whatever that may be, and it's the quality and kind of education that's important: you're right that those who pass through university into a 'middle class' lifestyle can be as philistine as those who leave school for the supermarket without qualifications.