a tv book that doesn’t assume you’re an idiot
Still mentally scarred by the experience of my last vacation abroad – when Border Force mistook x-ray outlines of paperbacks in my luggage for packs of heroin, with unhilarious results – I didn’t yet compiled this year’s summer reading list. Maybe, as one of the officers kindly suggested, I should invest in a Kindle instead. But I love a real book, and a trip to the bookstore is one of my favorite pre-holiday rituals.
And here, with perfect timing, the Sky Arts Book Club Summer Reading Special. This is a book program that treats its viewers like friends, ably presented by Elizabeth Day, Andi Oliver and Simon Savidge. It also treats them like smart people (unlike the BBC’s Between the Covers effort, which seems terrified of looking smart). I was unfamiliar with almost any of the books mentioned, but the contributors talked about them with such enthusiasm that I was determined to choose a few. A useful service for anyone confused by the sheer volume of titles available.
Book programs on TV, however, are tricky. There is an intimacy to reading that is much better suited to radio. The program also covers a lot of books in the space of an hour. Each week, members of a book club are invited (this week, a group of bright, serious young women who run Bad Form magazine featuring writers of color). But a regular book club spends an entire evening discussing a book. Here, there were two talking points – Caleb Azumah Nelson’s Costa Award-winning Open Water, and Minnie Driver’s Managing Expectations – along with a host of other recommendations. It was in a hurry.
It’s also more fun if contributors and presenters disagree on a book, but that’ll never happen when the two chosen authors of the week are invited into the studio – telling Minnie Driver her memoir was rubbish would make the TV extremely awkward (I haven’t read it, by the way, but I’m sure it’s great). Still, it’s just nice to have a book show on TV that isn’t watched by the lowest common denominator, and Day in particular is a fluent interviewer who can ask an author of their book: -wise and make it sound like a compliment, not an insult.