I remain uninterested in what defines literature, or literary fiction, from what is termed commercial fiction. By and large I find the business riddled with snobbery of the very worst kind. There are novels that react with you on different levels. Some are glistening works of comic fiction like the unsurpassable P.G. Wodehouse or perhaps his modern day equivalent, Sir Terry Pratchett. There are others that strip bare to the bone fiction paring it back until an unpleasant, often violent truth of mankind’s nature is revealed as with Henning Mankell or Martina Cole. Then there is the light touch of Adriana Trigiani, the ribald romantic comedies of the irrepressible Jilly Cooper. Heavyweights like Philp Roth, Haruki Murakami, Will Self and Kiran Desai all of whom have an abundance of invention that spills onto the pages waiting to tickle our imaginations.
Who in their right mind would want to categorise such gifts? Who would want to present one more worthy than the other? Composer Frank Zappa said that he, totally untutored, learnt his craft by listening to music. He did not differentiate Stravinsky or Weber from the likes of Johnny Guitar Watson or The Jewels. He liked the music for what it was.
The same analogy can be drawn with writing. Ray Bradbury or Wally Lamb? Sarah Waters or Minette Walters. Orwell or Cookson or E.L.James? That master of horror famously said that without Ray Bradbury there would be no Steven King. King, like the band he loved, The Beatles and for that matter any half-decent author, had his influences. A decent author will invest time into reading a variety of styles. They will be influenced by all even if only in some cases learning not to repeat the same mistakes.
All good, all different, all inhabiting the same ocean; some as flighty fish that swim near the surface; some larger beasts that range deeper, predatory and dark and some who are monstrous in size, in imagination, in invention and construction of storytelling; whales and squids and Octopi.
The only reason any judge of story books, be they fictional, historical, biographical or factual, selects what they believe to be high art is so that they, the reader, the authority, can dress themselves in the reflected genius of their perceived critical eye. By disregarding one to elevate the other they take on a persona of received intellect. They attach themselves limpet like to what they want others to believe is sophisticated. This implies that they too have that quality, that they are a connoisseur, that they are blessed with impeccable taste. They aren’t. They don’t. They are singularly missing the point.
What is the point? To read all you can accepting that books are books, that no two tastes are the same. If one only succeeds in titillating you then accept it for what it is. If another moves you to tears then remember it then read it again.
My love of music has not faltered; it has now been matched in recent years by my ravenous desire to read books of all stripes. When as a twelve year old I heard for the first time The Beatles album ‘Revolver’ my world was turned upside down. I cannot emphatically declare how hearing that music changed my life forever. Without hearing that album I would not have discovered Beethoven, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa or Stravinsky. That passion hasn’t dwindled but now it has grown to encompass reading. I am devouring books with the same childish enthusiasm, the same incredible sense of awe that I had when first hearing tape loops on a pop record. I feel as though I were John Carter entering a cave in Virginia then walking out onto the alien red dust of Mars. The landscape transfixes me. It reveals vistas I had never thought possible. The horizons are infinite.
It is an incredible place to be when you are only fifty eight going on twelve.
Listening to "Concerto for Orchestra" by Béla Bartók