I think it is more fun to love unpopular books.
And I don’t mean that I’m trying to be contrary and enjoy starting dinner party conversations with a discussion on chapter three of Mein Kampf.
It’s not that the books I like to read should be unpopular it’s just that they shouldn’t be, well, popular. Or, rather, I shouldn’t know that they’re popular before I discover them.This is not just anti-populist snobbery talking – I don’t think that everything that is popular is shite, or that everything shite is popular. It’s more that there’s something hugely satisfying about stumbling on to a new favourite and feeling it belongs all to me. Sure it’s nice to discover the absolute joy that is The Great Gatsby but knowing that thousands, if not millions, have been there before me does somewhat diminish the sensation that I’m discovering an entirely new world.
When I pick up a ‘classic’ or something new that has the reviewers unzipping their pants with enthusiasm part of me feels a twinge of obligation that I Must Like This Book because it is a Good Book. Stupidly, of course, I often end up resenting that twinge and reading the book critically for a chance to pick it apart.
By comparison, finding a slightly more obscure book by chance is a wonderful thing. I once picked up a copy of a lovely little book called After Leaving Mr Mackenzie because I liked the title. I had no idea who its author Jean Rhys was but the cute title and the cover of the book appealed to me. The book blew me away and I imagined I had discovered some great untapped talent in Rhys. Of course a little research made me realise I had discovered absolutely jack that hadn’t already been well recognised but I still felt a sense of ownership, as though Rhys and her work belonged to me.All this is a very roundabout way of saying that I have some apprehension about a task Lindsay and I have set ourselves: working our way backwards through The Man Booker Prize winners.
On the one hand this goes against my entire approach to books, but on the other I am utterly unable to resist the challenge. Plus I quite like the idea of moulding myself into one of those wankers who has read every book Oprah or, if he actually has a brain, some literary critic, told him to read but absolutely nothing else and corners you on the couch at a party to tell you how much he enjoys the work of Toni Morrison in the hope, presumably, that this might encourage you to rip off your clothes.
So, armed with A3 printouts of 38 years worth of winners, we are jumping into the fray. Of course it shall have to fit around my other reading and the many, many books that are already well ahead of them in the line but I expect to soon be able to offer an articulate opinion of Good Book’s such as Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss, John Banville’s The Sea and even (god help me) another 30-odd random books, some of which I have always intended to read and others that suck my will to live merely by existing. (I will not, however, be re-reading Life of Pi so don’t even suggest it. And yes I know that (apparently) everyone other than me loved it but I found it hateful. I’m sorry - I’ll try to do better.)