Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 08 Dec 2017

You won’t find any books in the home of the one-eyed monster

I recently returned from quite an arduous trip abroad for work purposes and on my first evening back I really didn’t feel like doing much except slumping in a semi-conscious state in front of the television. I don’t do this very often without a sense of guilt but on this occasion I was happy to sit there and absorb some tripe.

Watching commercial channels has become almost unbearable – the advert breaks are absurdly long and there seems to be a ‘repeat ad infinitum’ button somewhere in the television studios that ensures you see the exact same promotional message time and time again.

For some reason this time however I suddenly found myself wondering why you never see any advertisements for best-selling books on television. I have no idea what the answer is but I suspect it must be something to do with the economics of advertising and the financial realities of the publishing world not being natural bedfellows. Which is just a complicated way of saying that I’m guessing it doesn’t make financial sense to pay through the nose for a television advert to sell a product that can only make a tiny margin of profit. I don’t really know of course – it could be something else altogether.

But that in turn made me conscious of just how few books you ever see on t.v. I started scanning the advertisements with their perfect homes peopled by ideal families – and not a single book to be seen on the shelves. Plenty of video games, lots of music videos, acres of exercise equipment, lots of ‘fun’…….but no books.

You do, of course, get the obligatory book-lined library room in period drama or the detective mystery but they really aren’t books at all but decoration and ‘atmosphere’. But I really can’t bring to mind the last time a television programme featured anyone reading as a leisure activity.

There aren’t, as far as I can see, even any scheduled programmes given over to books, book reviews or the issues and ideas books inform or create. It’s true that you get the occasional BBC4 programme or arts review slot that incorporate individual book reviews and you get plenty of book adaptations but nothing about what you might call ‘book culture’ as a regular part of the viewing options.

This may all sound rather too nerdy to be of any interest but I think it’s actually quite important in terms of the messages we get about what constitutes valuable or valued social and cultural activities. There is no doubt that physical prowess and sport is valued much higher in our cultural hierarchy than is reading and the pursuit of knowledge and this message is constantly underscored by the absence of any sign on television that books might be a valuable or enjoyable part of a rounded family life. We send children off to school and tell them that learning and reading books is essential and important and then completely undermine that message by expunging them from the popular cultural landscape.

Popular television quizzes frequently have a ‘literature’ category and this is almost always guaranteed to send the contestants into a tail-spin because the levels of familiarity with books and their authors is lamentable. But if that wasn’t bad enough, it is often the role of the dimwit acting as the m.c. to collude with the ignorance and to sympathise with the contestant that they should be expected to know anything about these bothersome, boring books.

If I was a cynical sort of chap (and those who know me will almost certainly tell you that I’m not) I’d suspect that actually it’s in the interests of those that run broadcasting and television production companies to make sure books aren’t promoted. After all, we don’t want viewers who read, have some critical capacity or can make their own minds up – they might just end up turning the damned set off!


Terry Potter

December 2017