I know I bang on about this, but I think it is important.Indeed, I think snobbery cripples the world of books.
Only this week a leading university creative writing course advertised itself by proudly boasting its students won’t write ‘mass market fiction’ or ‘children’s fiction’.
The week before – when the World Book Night list was announced (I’m honoured to be on it) – there were a few Twitter whinges about there being too many YA and ‘supermarket novels’ on there. This was doubly ironic as World Book Night is aimed at people who have been put off books, often because they feel they have been made to feel they aren’t for them.
These are just two tiny examples. I have more.
But many people are in denial. I believe STRONGLY that books are for everyone, in the same way that film and music can be.
Books are the backbone of society. They have founded religions and political viewpoints. They emancipate minds and imaginations, encourage empathy, and lead to better societies. Yet so many people of influence in the world of books seem to be anti certain people reading.
The very fact that ‘mass market’ is a negative term is telling. I mean, I bet some of these people who shun mass market fiction enjoy ‘mass market’ music like The Beatles and Bob Dylan and Bowie and the Arctic Monkeys, and ‘mass market’ films like Gravity. There is an automatic assumption with books that anything popular is bad.
Here are a few ‘mass market’ writers I like – Graham Greene, Roald Dahl, William Shakespeare, Patricia Highsmith, Stephen King, Jeanette Winterson, Patrick Ness. Whenever I write anything like this I get tons of people (snobs) say things like – well, the snobby tastemakers don’t have anything like the influence of supermarket chains and the people publishing thrillers that are often dross. My point is not that there should be more dross. My point is that taste is fine. But prejudice isn’t, because it leads to less readers and worse books. It leads to a two-tier publishing industry where you have publishers cynically publishing stuff because they think readers will buy ‘any old crap’, or they publish obscure and exotically difficult books for the kudos and the prizes. Meanwhile, proper intelligent and unsnobby storytelling falls through the middle.
So yes, have taste. Read, write and publish things because you genuinely like them. But snobbishness is never okay. When things like thrillers and women’s fiction and kids books are dismissed in a blanket way then that is wrong.
Intelligence doesn’t always have to be inaccessible. Even the most elaborate piece of architecture needs a door.
It is the easiest thing in the world to write a difficult book no-one likes except a handful of highbrow reviewers (I wrote one of those in 2008). A million times harder to write something that actually speaks to different kinds of people in a meaningful way. Whether those people are children or people who shop in a supermarket. Isn’t the purpose of art articulation? Anyway, I’ve said it before, if books ever die, snobbery will be standing over the corpse.