Friday, December 15, 2006

English books in America

William Skidelsky has posted an interesting item at the Guardian's books blog about the reception of English books in America and American books in England. He asks if England's inferiority complex about American writing is justified, and wonders why many English books do in fact enjoy success in America. Working toward an answer he cites an essay that appears in the magazine he edits:
In an essay in the new issue of Prospect Magazine, the young American novelist Benjamin Markovits - who partly grew up in England and now lives here - gives us a different take on the matter. He points out that while for English readers the "high voice" of the American novel can be seductive, the more modest and nuanced tones of the English novel appeal to Americans for precisely the opposite reason - because they offer the "attractions of refinement", of a "society everywhere coloured and scored by its own fine grain." Surveying the US bestseller lists of the last few decades, Markovits notes how consistently the English novels that have made it big there have conformed to a certain type: "England, as it appears in the US bestseller charts, is the country of Oxbridge and public schools." In other words, it's the traditional, elitist, class-ridden England that has proved most popular with American readers.
I won't argue that Skidelsky and Markovits are wrong--I really don't have an informed sense of the general phenomenon they're writing about--but none of that rings true for me personally.

I enjoyed many of the books and authors Skidelsky mentions, from England as well as from America. But I don't think of the English books in terms of "refinement" or class-ridden--or about the American novels for the lack thereof. For me it's simply about good stories well told.

--Marshal Zeringue