Sunday, 11 July 2010


I have just finished watching the Channel 4 book group thingy, a programme I find confusing but compelled to watch due to my current working situation. Jo Brand aside, who picked that panel? Watching Dave Spikey and that woman from……um, well that other woman makes me feel very odd. I want to appreciate the differences Channel 4 are trying to convey here, namely: class, sex, age and ethnicity and put their odd casting down to good intentions gone wrong. But it just upsets me, it’s like eating dumplings and cream – enjoyable to some people served separately, but together? And what happened to Gok? Were there just too many social bases covered last series?

The fat funny woman – check
Sexy young woman (though not afraid to appear intelligent) possibly from a non-European background – check
Northern, middle aged man of the people, salt of the earth, not going to intellectually intimate the boyfriends and husbands forced to watch the show – check
Chinese feminine man/boy whose contract stipulates he will be given opportunity to front non-clothing based show – check

I’m guessing viewers found this cultural spread a little hard to digest and producers cut loose the one presenter (Jo Brand aside) who they knew would be ok on his own. They spend each show discussing books that I would never think to pick up from the shelf and probably have never been sufficiently interested by to flip over at work. Not a bad thing at all, afterall there isn’t much point trying to get people to read books they would happily find by themselves. However, after this odd ball bunch have finished discussing said book I’m still not interested, so much so that I am nervous about tomorrow in case I find myself holding the book by accident, what if someone sees me and thinks “she saw that programme last night and was encouraged by that weird, bizarrely cast panel! What a loser, she must have NO MIND OF HER OWN”. I do however always make a mental note to have a look at Jo Brand’s autobiography (now available in paperback).

So whilst the rest of the planet watched the world cup final I tried to crowbar some inspiration from The Channel 4 book group. And oddly enough, I did. But not about the book on discussion but a book written by the subject of their “Bluffer’s Guide to…” segment. The author was James Joyce (a man who most of those featured in a “do you know who James Joyce is?” voxpox did not know who James Joyce was) the book was Ulysess. I grew up thinking this book was a Greek play or epic poem, which having watched the informative “Bluffer’s Guide to …..James Joyce” I feel confident enough to say probably is a bit. I remember being pleasantly surprised to find that it wasn't a greek tragedy. That it was actually written in my own language and was a book that I MAY be able to read. But then you hear the horror stories. The boy presenter (for he looked younger than I have ever been) did nothing to dampen these terrors. He hammered on about how difficult it is to read, how people have gone mad just looking into its covers. He may be right. I’m looking at my copy now, the paperback edition first published in 1961 (the reason I bought it) and find just a single corner turned over to mark its previous owner’s attempt. My Ulysses ancestor stopped on page 8, and there isn’t any indication that that journey included any of the forewords. This is a worry. But the way it was described grabbed my attention, I like the idea of reading something written in numerous different genres (afterall, this is how Channel 4 present their shows); a book that’s impact and looming presence hasn’t waned over the years. People are still scared of this book and I would like to know why. I also don’t want to be one of those people that just buy books because they look good on a shelf and have a cool retro cover. I would like to crush the next person who goes “ahh Ulysses! Cool cover, but I bet you haven’t read it!” with an informed, just patronising enough touché. As an English literature graduate I find it only right that I should at least give it a go and while the world watches “22 millionaires ruining a lawn”( – Charlie Brooker) I feel enough alone in the world to open up that book and let it make me go a bit mad without damaging those I love. It will also be better than answering “what classics have you read?” with the meek response “weeeeell I did Mary Barton at Uni…..”

Ill let you know how I get on, keep your fingers crossed I make it passed page 8…..

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