Inspiring Older Readers

posted on 10 Nov 2015

Oh no! It’s nearly the season of the ‘funny book’…

I’ll be straight with you – I’m not a fan of Christmas. As an atheist who also loathes the orgy of pointless mass consumption and force-fed, ersatz jollity, I think I’m safe in saying that I’m probably not part of the typical Xmas target group. I’m also not a fan of ‘funny’ books – by which I don’t mean I’m not a fan of humour. I love P.G.Wodehouse, Stephen Leacock, Evelyn Waugh and I even think that some of George Orwell’s novels are comic masterpieces – although that’s probably something to return to at another time. No, what I loathe is the crude and self-conscious funny gift book designed to be bought in desperation when all other, more useful, ideas have failed. So the inevitable coming together of the Christmas season and the new round of morbidly unfunny funny books, fills me with a sense of dread.

I know that over the coming weeks the tables of our bookshops will have perfectly good, intelligent books cleared to make space for an array of tripe that looks desperate even before Christmas and even more depressingly forlorn immediately after. You know the stuff I’m talking about – crass pastiche’s of Lord of the Rings, joke compendiums, dreadful Frankenstein monster-like collections cut and pasted from other sources and hung together around the most flimsy notion, pun or celebrity name. They are the literary equivalent of the cartoon socks and ties. Buying them is a way of saying ‘Look at me, I’m a little bit mad’. No you’re not – you’re a lot sad.

It’s not as if the Christmas book market isn’t already full of disposable guff. More recipe books from over-exposed chefs, ghost-written autobiographies of third and fourth rate television celebrities that absolutely no-one – even their relatives – gives a toss about and The Guinness Book of Records for pre-pubescent boys obsessed with ‘facts’.  All despicable but as nothing compared with the Christmas funny book.

And what is the fate of all this hilarity between covers?  I would guess the unsold copies filling the distribution warehouses will find their way into the network of remainder shops to be sold for £1.50, or, more likely, sent eventually to be pulped. Those that have been bought will be dutifully flicked through on Christmas afternoon before being tossed to one side and never picked up again. By February the great clear-out will begin and they’ll be scooped up to go to as a donation to the charity shop where they will be sat alongside previous contributions to the great funny book archive by such luminaries as Cannon and Ball, Jim Davidson, Kenny Everett or any number of comics who have agreed to have their names attached to this dross but probably wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole.

In the great scheme of things these are not really books at all –they are simply commodities designed to part the hapless and unimaginative from their money. The fact that they come packaged as books is simply a convenience and I would guess quite a lot of this stuff may well have already transferred to other formats in the digital age – DVD in particular.

Thinking about it, what would really give my Christmas a lift is the passing of a law that said, in the interests of protecting the more stupid and vulnerable in our society, it was perfectly legal to go into shops selling these books, sweep them into a sack and take them to the local waste incinerator. In fact, I think that should be a public duty for all real book lovers.


Terry Potter

November 2015


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