If you were planning on sending me a book – because you saw one you thought I might like for Christmas, or because you’ve just written one and you’d like a quote for the jacket, or because you can’t think of anything more hilarious than buying me a celebrity memoir of someone neither of us could name if they put a gun to our heads – could I ask you nicely to hold off?
I like reading. I really do. I like it so much that this year I judged the Orange Prize, and next year I’m judging the Man Booker. That means, in two years, I’ll have read well over 200 novels, fitted around my usual job (I realise I can’t say proper job with a straight face). I will also have managed to jam them all into a one-bedroom flat: I’m currently considering sculpting them into furniture, and extricating them jenga-style when it’s time to read one.
Now the judging panel has been announced, I find (as I did with the Orange) that responses split into two camps. The majority of people who ask about it look slightly horrified at the thought of reading one or two books a day over many weeks. Most people tell me that they wouldn’t read that many books in a month, or a year, or if you paid them.
But then there are the hungry-eyed people, who can’t believe anyone could be so lucky as to be sent hundreds of free books. And, happily, I am one of the latter, which is why I keep saying yes to judging. Fifteen years ago, when I worked in a video-rental store before the minimum wage act came in, I earned £3.30 an hour. I spent most of it on rent, and virtually nothing on food: I lived off the unsellable broken ice-creams and chocolate bars (and I almost never smashed one because it looked tasty). Then I bought remaindered books and lived in constant worry that I would run out of reading material before the next payday.
Now, I get sent – even without the judging – about three books a week by people who think I might like them. I’m very grateful, but I do often wish I could give them to my past self, who couldn’t afford them and would have had more time to read them.
To try to correct this imbalance, without buying a DeLorean and driving at 88 miles an hour through a parking lot to go back to the mid-90s, I have sworn never to resell books on Amazon or eBay. They go to the local charity shop, in the hope that the person who’s buying them from there gobbles them up en route to becoming a Man Booker judge in a few years.
Killing us with condescension
I might be less sanguine about reading all the books in the world if The Killing was still on telly. But the final episodes of the final season went out on Saturday night, and now my evenings look much less fun. This series has been a return to form: the first series was a perfect dissection of grief, the last has been about political and corporate corruption, and couldn’t have been more timely.
Viewers have, rightly, fixated on the character of the lead detective, and her excellent knitwear. But The Killing has done more than just present us with a good mystery. It’s captured the mood of the moment, by entwining its violent crime with political shenanigans. The Killing has sought to prove that no one – however respectable – can be trusted. I can’t think of a British crime drama that has done the same thing since State of Play. (I’m not counting The Hour because it’s set in the past.) Since we were all perfectly happy to watch high-end drama that doesn’t talk down to its audience, even when it was in Danish, could our commissioning editors aim a bit higher for us next year?