Books Too, Have (Social) Classes

In certain high-brow circles, an individual’s choice of books is all that determines if that person is plebby or cultured. Conversely, an author’s standing in the literary world is determined by the genre of his or her works, for books, themselves, have a pyramidal class structure.

To be a poet, however reduced and/or neglected, is to be a member of an elite; heir to a tradition that includes Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Auden, and Larkin.

Poets, for me, are closely followed by playwrights, for rather the same reason. Playwrights aren’t aristocrats, but oddly vagrant. They’re part of a tradition that is, arguably, the richest and most original thread in the English literature tapestry.

Then, oh dear, yes, we come to the literary novelists. These are not (usually) aristocrats, but are rather middle-class types, who spring from bourgeois society in all its complexity.

Popular historians, biographers, and memoirists share a similar position.

As crime fiction grew as a genre, however, it became associated with clerks and lower middle-class readers: people who commuted to work on trains and buses.

If there’s one section of literary society that never quite gets the recognition it deserves, it is the writers of children’s books.

This, by the way, is a game that’s quite a bit harder to play in the U.S.A., which, as we are always being told, is a classless society.



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