A Good Read is one of my favourite book programmes. Originally Sue McGregor presented this. She is a consummate broadcaster. Now the more bookish Harriet Gilbert is at the helm. The idea is that 2 personalities make their suggestions of a Good Read alongside Harriet Gilbert. It’s a rich source of recommendation and its always more interesting when three, rather than one, review a book.
Yesterday featured Irish comedian Andrew Maxwell and Pakistani writer Kamila Shamsie. Handling a fall out between the two other contibutors is a skill and Harriet Gilbert did it rather well The comedian could not stand Anita Desai’s Clear Light of Day and Shamsie did not think too much of Maxwell’s choice Tortilla Flat. I am a big John Steinbeck fan, who combines a simplicity of style with a deeper complexity of character. Harriet Gilbert didn’t care for the central character Danny as he beat up prostitutes. I do not think you have to care about a central character to appreciate the novel and was disappointed by her stance. She chose a memoir by Doris Lessing In Pursuit of the English which she wrote when first coming to London. I might read this but, having read Anita Desai, I thought her a lightweight .
The progamme can select a contributor who, whilst well known, has no feeling for literature and this is a shame. It’s at its best when someone has a deep intellect and advocates a book in a stimulating way. The Archbishop Of Wales recommended the Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway, the extraordinary tale of the cellist who played the Albinoni Cello Adagio at the spot outside a bakery where 22 were killed by a mortar shells during the siege of Sarajevo.
Those who criticise the BBC, and I have been one myself, should appreciate the high quality of Radio 4 arts programmes in which A Good Read is a worthy feature.