Suspicious Minds: The Richard & Judy Book Club and Its Resistant Readers

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

Authors

External organisations

  • Mount Saint Vincent University

Abstract

“They're not very deep in what they say about it, are they? I think it's sort of a bit surface, ‘this is fabulous, you must go out and read it, and here's our celebrity who really, really liked it too, so if you like them then you must enjoy it.’” (Lauren, Focus Group participant, Birmingham, 2007)

“It is a lifestyle show, but these books oversell a reduced, unimaginative notion of what people's literary enjoyment might be.” (Andrew O’Hagan quoted in Boztas 2008)

Why do committed readers dislike Richard and Judy’s Book Club? Only 16% of the 1549 respondents in our survey of UK readers watch the Book Club. According to readers in our eight focus groups, Richard and Judy’s Book Club epitomizes the unsophisticated tenor of popular daytime television. For them, the book talk on the show is rudimentary, uncritical and undeveloped. Many of these readers, along with 32% of our survey respondents, are accustomed to participating in sustained, collaborative interpretations of books within face-to-face or online groups where dissent is usual (e.g. Hartley 2001, Long 2003, Rehberg Sedo 2003). Readers are also suspicious of the show because the Book Club has become a highly visible brand in bookshops, libraries and the popular press.

In this essay we argue that the Book Club threatens readers’ ideological investment in reading as a ‘high culture’ activity. We begin by interrogating readers’ articulations of resistance to the Richard & Judy Book Club. We then turn to the content and format of the 2007 edition. Our analysis demonstrates how the television show uses a number of strategies that disrupt elitist notions of reading and who can be a reader. The producers successfully employ the medium of television and the ‘celebrity’ persona of the husband-and-wife team and their guests to make books accessible, fun and entertaining. Further, Richard and Judy represent themselves as ‘regular’ readers rather than as professional reader-critics who possess specialized knowledge of narrative strategies and literary aesthetics. They host enthusiastic ‘live’ studio conversations with celebrity guests who describe their reading experiences and often articulate emotional responses to the books. These responses are discussed and valued on air, and become part of up-beat introductions to the Book Club books. Viewers are also taken on a tour of the book’s setting by its author, and they see members of face-to-face book clubs offering sound-bites of opinion in two edited sequences shot on location. Thus, in thirteen minutes of adeptly-produced television, Richard and Judy’s Book Club celebrates reading as an interactive and interpersonal experience. The eclectic and wide-ranging choice of genres featured reinforces the show’s framing of reading as a non-elitist and gender-neutral activity. The Book Club segment thus promotes books as non-threatening cultural artifacts which connect to viewer’s interests and can be readily incorporated into their everyday lives. Ironically, it is the very success of this process of popularization, combined with the commodification of the Book Club selections, that devalues books and reading for the readers in our study.

Details

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Richard & Judy Book Club Reader
Subtitle of host publicationPopular Texts and the Practices of Reading
EditorsJenni Ramone, Helen Cousins
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2011