Highbrow-baiting is such a time-honoured national pastime that you might think newspaper editors would get tired of it once in a while. But no: Janet Street-Porter was reliably on hand in The Independent on the morning after this autumn’s Man Booker Prize winner was announced with a feisty little harangue entitled ‘Booker Prize snobs have lost the plot’. According to Street-Porter, the British publishing industry is ‘the last bastion of true snobbishness’. Literary festivals, which she attends with extreme reluctance, are the resort of ‘middle-class luvvies’ come to ‘pat each other on the back’. Worse even than this, to her democratising mind, is the ‘massive disparity … between books people actually buy and read … and the stuff that gets reviewed favourably in newspapers’. Although the items chosen by Richard and Judy will sell more copies than any Man Booker winner, Street-Porter grandly concludes, ‘booksellers still regard the words mass market as really meaning of second-rate value’.
The most creaking flaw in this thesis might be its definition of ‘snobbishness’, which you and I would probably mark down as Thackeray’s ‘assumption of a false superiority’ but which the Independent on Sunday’s editor-at-large seems to regard as the filing of any judgement whatsoever. But however crudely expressed, or