On literature and bestsellers

Early this morning when I was creating today’s edition of Extrowords, on The Booker Prize, I took a break in between to read a bit of Fay Weldon’s wonderful book, “What Makes Women Happy.” How apt, then, that I should now stumble upon these words by Weldon:

As the sequels and prequels take over — if they liked that one, surely they’ll like this one — the creative imagination withers. The advent of the Booker, the Whitbread and others was oddly pernicious in the public perception of what the writer does for a living — that the aim of the literary writer is to win the Prize. That the pursuit of excellence is yesterday’s preoccupation: the writer’s skill now lies in how he or she conducts the race to the finish, the race to celebrity. The camera fixes on six faces, and then whips the cheque away from all but one of them.

Indeed, this is especially true in India, where people seem to find it hard to fathom literature outside of commerce. What prizes has a book got? How much advance did the writer get? Which page 3 parties has the writer been seen at with the glitterati? These are the things that decide how many column inches writers get. I suppose that’s fair enough—supply and demand, after all—and we serious readers are just unlucky that there aren’t enough of us.