‘Literature is not for you’

Article in The Scotsman

Once upon a time I was a member of the Puffin Book Club, the children’s club from Penguin Books. It had a magazine in the early days – the Puffin Post – with puzzles and stories from writers that included Roald Dahl and Alan Garner, and all of its members received a marvellous badge of a puffin that I treasured and still have in my jewellery box.

puffin club badge

They were grooming us, of course, for the hard stuff, for the Penguin list for adults, and in the long run for Penguin Classics, for the great books that included the authors Aristotle, Austen, Nabokov and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The publishing house shapes what we read. It is a gatekeeper of culture, playing a crucial role in deciding what is great literature. And I have followed their guidance. Not exclusively – I read well beyond their list – but I have been pleased with the orange, blue and green paperback Penguins, as well as the black covered Penguin Classics that I find myself reading again and again but have yet to exhaust.

Well, no more. Penguin have blown it. Today they are publishing the first edition of Morrissey’s autobiography as a Penguin Classic, saying that it is a “Classic in the making”. Now the ramblings of a once popular but peculiar singer will sit alongside Montaigne and Milton. And yet there is no way they are comparable. All the other writers have had to work for this accolade by standing the test of time, but not Morrissey. His autobiography will not be worthy of the title a Classic. Suggesting so insults the achievement of the other writers and us readers.
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