I think I am in love with M.J. Rose. Only don't tell her because it would be terribly embarrassing for both of us.
The reason why I have such warm feelings is that M.J. talks more sense than most groups of fourteen other people in the writing and publishing worlds ever do. And on 15 May she had a particularly sane piece entitled Sermonetta.
She begins by describing some of the amazingly bitchy things that female, literary, writers have said about her. Talk about sisters sticking together -- jeez. And then she goes on to make the point that we should all stop worrying about whether particular books are commercial crap or deeply serious literature and get on with the business of encouraging people to read them.
Hear, hear. Particularly as today brings news (via booktrade.info) from the US Book Industry Study Group, that the sales of books in the US dropped by nearly 44 million between 2003 and 2004.
The dichotomy -- oh dear, I really must kick this habit of using sesquipedalian words -- this division, right, between the fancy stuff and the unspeakably vulgar has always seemed to me to be a false one anyway. Why can't you enjoy both? But for the record I am firmly on the side of the unspeakably vulgar. My all-time favourite TV show is a long-forgotten sitcom called Nearest and Dearest, which was about as far down-market as you could go. It was about a brother and sister who owned a pickle factory somewhere oop north -- the north of England that is -- and it starred Hylda Baker and Jimmy Jewel.
Baker and Jewel were both pretty elderly by the time they got into this show, but they had grown up as old-time music-hall performers. Their craft had been polished by decades of standing in front of challenging audiences, and making them laugh. They were a joy to watch, though they seem to have hated each other with passionate intensity. Hylda was a difficult woman to work with.
Earlier in life, Jimmy Jewel had a long partnership with his cousin and fellow comedian, Ben Warriss. They were very famous in England in the 1940s and '50s. So much so that they once got invited to appear in America, on the Ed Sullivan TV show.
Sullivan was short-sighted, and far too vain to wear glasses. He also had a short memory span. So when he tried to announce the next act as Jimmy Jewel and Ben Warriss, it came out as Jim Jowl and his walrus. The British boys were not too impressed, and in any case their humour was not for the Americans, who had their own masters of comedy.
Ed Sullivan was, I have to report, a man with a deep knowledge of, and respect for, the higher levels of European culture. A friend of mine, who worked in the world of ballet, once found himself sitting next to Sullivan at a charity performance given by Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. 'Tell me about this Nureyev guy,' said Sullivan to my friend. 'Is he a high jumper?'