From The Guardian:
Reading the recent Sydney Review of Books essay, Could Not Put It Down, it’s difficult to work out who its author, Beth Driscoll, intended to insult the most: readers for liking middlebrow books, writers for having the temerity to write them, or publishers for bowing to the demons of commerce by printing them.
Throughout history, writers, musicians and artists have created works of art to keep the wolf from the door and satisfy their paymasters. Without that commercial imperative, there would be no Michelangelo, Mozart, Shakespeare or Dickens. What is so shameful about writing a book and hoping it sells well?
The answer is simple: nothing.
Driscoll’s essay uses three recent publications by Australian female authors who to her mind typify “middlebrow” fiction. Middlebrow is such a loaded term. Condescending, definitely. But to whom exactly? She begins her attack by talking about the way these three books – The Landing by Susan Johnson, The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop, and Relativity by Antonia Hayes – are packaged. The images of women or children on their covers have been deliberately chosen, she asserts, to appeal to the middlebrow readership.
Who are women. Because statistically, about 85% of books are bought by women, mostly between the ages of 40 and 65. True as that is, there is an implied criticism that these book-buying middle-aged women have the audacity to read diversely. As if, as readers, we should sustain ourselves on a diet of literary foie gras, staving off cravings for the occasional newspaper-wrapped fish’n’chips or a comforting, nourishing stew.
. . . .
Recent figures show that sales of literary fiction are in decline. Bestselling Australian authors such as Liane Moriarty, Kate Morton and Michael Robotham provide the financial cushion that allows publishers to invest in lesser-known writers they believe in. Literary writers are beneficiaries of these middlebrow successes as much as anyone.
That the publisher chooses to package a book to maximise its appeal to as broad a market as possible is business knowhow. The author has nothing to do with it.
Driscoll’s further assertion that “it is not just critics but also readers who notice this packaging” is nonsense. Literary critics often make decisions about what to review long before the book is published. Critics cannot afford to judge a book by its cover because often, well, there isn’t one yet. Their decision is more likely made from the quality of the blurb in the publisher’s catalogue some six months earlier and the existing reputation of the author.
. . . .
Simplicity also factors into Driscoll’s definition of middlebrow. But literary or commercial, writers write with an overriding desire to get their message through. Simplicity is an art form, impenetrability is plain (or not so plain) poor writing.
Winning a major literary prize gives writers a sales boost, but by Driscoll’s measure a book’s literary worth diminishes as its popularity rises. As Stephanie Bishop questions in her stinging response to Driscoll: “Why would a large readership mean a lack of prestige?” Driscoll is determined to demean the reader for liking a book and the author for having written a book readers like. Middlebrow perhaps, but surely there is a middle ground, too?
Link to the rest at The Guardian and thanks to Meryl for the tip.
PG says twits are universal and twitdom knows no boundaries. The lengthier the education, the greater the capacity for twitness.
A larger issue is, “Why does anyone pay twits to write anything?”
If twits had no one upon which to look down, would twits exist?