Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The London Literary Scene OK. I’ve been in London less than 72 hours and I can already see how much more literate this country is than the United States.

I don’t mean literate in the sense that every person on the street is carrying around a copy of Salman Rushdie's new book.

I mean literate in the sense that book news is everywhere, on a par with the amount of movie news in the United States.

The Sunday Times culture section is a mini-magazine. This week it had a two-page spread on the “Richard and Judy” Summer Picks, which number 8 books. (more on them later)

The section also had 12 major reviews of hardbacks, 12 mini reviews of paperbacks or audio books, and one feature on what it was like to be selected as one of Richard and Judy’s picks. Gosh, on a good day the Sunday Chronicle Book Section has review of 5 books.

This must mean that people are reading. And consider books to be worthy cocktail party conversation. Otherwise, why would London papers waste the ink`?

Speaking of newspapers, the scene here reminds me of the good old days of American journalism. When you go to a newsstand, there are five or six daily papers to choose from. Granted, London has a population of 7 million, so a lot of views are needed, but still, there’s no monopoly here.

I have been reading about Richard and Judy in literary blogs for years but I never had any idea who they were or why they were so influential.

They have a daily talk show, sort of like Regis and Kelley Ripa. One incredible difference is that the Brits don’t seem to emphasize looks over talent. Judy must be in her 50s with plenty of laugh lines and flesh, yet she is incredibly popular. She would never make an appearance on American television.

Richard and Judy are like Oprah’s Book Club, only on a larger scale. They have selected a bevy of books for this summer, but there is no secrecy. They announced the selection a few days ago and will discuss the books on the air in the next 8 weeks.

I have never heard of any of the books. Rebecca Miller, the director and the daughter of Arthur Miller and the wife of Daniel Day-Lewis and the author of Personal Velocity, has a book on the list called The Secret Life of Pippa Lee. The others are all British authors I have never heard of. Oh, goody. Isn’t that the fun of traveling?

3 comments: said...

Not to be a snob, but you're comparing the cultural scene of London to Houston and surprised to find the latter lacking? Why not compare it to New York? Every Sunday, the NY Times not only has the Sunday Book Review which a heck of a lot more than 12 reviews, but a real, full magazine. There are now in New York 5 significant daily papers, two of which (the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) are on a level that, frankly, none of the British papers meet. This isn't even including the weekly magazines and newspapers (the New Yorker, New York, Village Voice, and so forth, the latter two whose quality surprises people who don't read it regularly), or the variety of "literary" magazines, real and imagined, hipster and real, that crowd these cities.
The question, though, is how much does any of this really matter? In New York, I know a lot of people who are familiar with books, who can hold their own in cocktail parties and the like. They recognize names like Salman Rushdie and Arthur Miller and Bernard Malamud and Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman. But why does knowing names matter? What interests me, is do they read? Do they look at paintings or simply know of them? Do they think? And some do and some don't - I have no idea if more people read in London or in New York, but that, I think, is the much more interesting question

sent from: [FID203627]

Frances said...

Actually, I was comparing the Independent's Sunday supplement to the San Francisco Chronicle's book, review, not Houston's. And I think the fact that the paper is full of book reviews reflects the regard in which books are held in British culture. While lots of people read in the U.S. (and I count myself among them) books seem to be impacting the culture less and less. I never meant to suggest there were not lots of periodicals to read in the U.S. . only that most cities now only have one newspaper, and increasingly, that paper has very few book reviews

James G. Leventhal said...

New York is something of an island...and isn't London, too, a bit. is it a refelction of all of England?

Great to see you blogging from that side of the pond, F.

came across this:

at some point in my on-line travels and it felt like a new kind of it old? does anyone know about it in the U.K.? Does it have a reputation?