Friday 25 May 2018

Authors reap the rewards of celebrity book club's praises

Those shapers of literary taste, Richard and Judy, are this week celebrating the first anniversary of their WH Smith Book Club with the announcement that there have been 100,000 hits on the club's online podcast.

That, though, is small beer for a duo whose Channel 4 book club, which ran from 2004 to 2008, was responsible for making a sizeable number of authors quite a lot richer. Joseph O'Connor's Star of the Sea shot up to the top of the Amazon bestseller charts four hours after it was lauded on the show, while similar encomiums resulted in Kate Mosse's Labyrinth and Victoria Hislop's The Island selling more than a million copies.

Indeed, Philip Stone of trade magazine The Bookseller says that "authors received a bigger benefit from appearing on Richard and Judy's sofa than by winning any of the major literary prizes".

Now operating online, their influence isn't nearly so great, but they still have clout and authors won't be averse to a mention on their recently posted 100 Books of the Decade, which features four Irish titles -- O'Connor's Star of the Sea, Sebastian Barry's The Secret Scripture, John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Cecelia Ahern's PS: I Love You.

An eclectic mix (the ghastly Dan Brown also figures on the list), but then nobody ever accused Richard and Judy of being too highbrow.


Meanwhile, the online magazine Slate is in anti-highbrow mode, asking readers which canonical literary masterpieces they consider over-rated.

Featuring prominently in the responses are James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, Cervantes's Don Quixote, Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet, JD Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and the old English saga Beowulf.

Having been forced to study Beowulf for my UCD degree, I'd go along with that and with the choice of Pynchon, too, while I've made fruitless attempts at getting into the world of Cervantes, but what did poor Holden Caulfield ever do to warrant such hostility?

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