I posted below on the tendency in British culture to exclude writers, unlike artists, from debate about the meanings of their work and the ways in which it should be read. Today DJ Taylor writes in the The Guardian about the proliferation of books by experts - most notably John Mullan and John Sutherland - instructing us how to read novels.
Taylor's main point is that these books, aimed in the main at reading groups, reinforce, through their choice of novels for discussion, 'the stranglehold exerted on literature by the three-for-two promotion and the high-street discount'. Thus, he says, they contribute, in a way which would probably horrify their authors, to the 'homogenisation of our literary culture.'
He has a point, I think. The Bitch is in a reading group whose members pride themselves on being immune to hype, and on forming their own opinions without recourse to others - black looks for any fool who brings to a meeting reviews downloaded from the internet. But if these How-To books would never sell to my lot, they are clearly selling to someone. And anyway: which books come to mind when my independent, stroppy lot are thinking of books for discussion: why, the Booker shortlists, of course, the books they've seen in three-for-two promotions - they're the only ones they can be expected to have heard of, after all.
And if these How-To books didn't feed into the expectations of reading groups, how would they sell?