Skip to Content

'A revolting act of patronage'

22 December 2003

'The one defence that can be made of The Big Read is that it has boosted reading. Never mind that the programmes have been nothing less than "car-crash TV", as one book-trade commentator put it. Anything at all that gets more people reading is good, isn't it?

No, it is not. It is possible to make programmes promoting books that are so demeaning they do more harm than good. Far from easy, but possible - and The Big Read has pulled off this amazing feat of debasement.

In any case, it turns out that it is not reading that The Big Read has primarily promoted but watching: yet more watching. According to the online booksellers Amazon, sales of DVDs and videos of the featured titles have increased far more than sales of the books...

And as for the result ... It was clear as soon as The Big Read was announced earlier this year that Tolkien would win, just as he won a similar Waterstone's poll, even before the movies were made...

The Big Read - was a revolting act of patronage from our most powerful medium. Here, literature has been refashioned entirely in television's terms: turned into film; reintroduced to us by television's own transient little celebrities; then fatuously voted on by viewers, some of whom may be readers, some not.

There's no harm done to books. We can all pick up any book we like, the next minute, without thinking of The Big Read. But harm has been done - to the standing of the BBC.'

David Sexton in the Evening Standard