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Paxman and Why Reading Matters

Firstly, having got well and truly soaked in last night's torrential rain after finding myself walking up to Highgate via Parliament Hill Fields, I returned home to see several messages alerting me to the fact that University Challenge had formed a question from A Clockwork Apple. I thought of my Dad, a big Jeremy Paxman fan, who would probably only have realised I'd written a book had it come from the mouth of the Newsnight presenter himself. I watched it back courtesy of BBC iPlayer and yes, it is surreal hearing Paxo say 'Belinda Webb'. What is it about hearing your own name? Whoever set the question also realised that the surname of main character Alex, Fawley, had been taken from one of my favourite novels, Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure as this formed the question that followed.

If you didn't manage to watch it last night, BBC4 (10pm) also showed 'Why Reading Matters', focussing on that visceral heart-wrenching novel, Wuthering Heights. The psychologist presenter visited a reading group in Liverpool to discover that they were using said group as a way to beat depression, with one woman claiming that her grand-daughter had told her that, since joining the book group, she had become a changed woman and that it was giving her more than a daily anti-depressant! It is, for me at least, that gut-level reaction and also the safety of being an observer of different worlds, different structures of feelings - the passion and rage of Wuthering Heights is, perhaps, something which people want to act out in their own lives? Who doesn't want to be a Cathy and have a Heathcliffe? And yet it is no 'fairy tale' in the conventional sense. I know people bang on about Jane Austen's wry and highly perceptive observations of social conventions, but I've never felt Austen in the same passionate way that I've felt the writings of the Brontes, and I've had this theory for a while that it had a lot to do with the fact that the Brontes (or the Bruntys if we are using the undoctored Irish surname of their father) had an Irish father who venerated the written word and language, and who himself could be a tad unpredictable. Interestingly, the programme also highlighted what I've found to be one of the least mentioned parts in the book, that of the young Cathy teaching Hareton to read.

After Why Reading Matters it was back to BBC2 and to Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight Review in which he hosted a 'discussion' for and against the bankers. John Prescott seems to have become a lot more comfortable within himself since retiring, yet paradoxically having lost none of his passion for traditional Labour politics. He launched into the bankers' greed like a rottweiler with a slipper and claimed their actions in taking huge bonuses from tax-payers bail out money was verging on the criminal, although I wouldn't have used 'verging' but 'actual'. There was also time for Alistair's Campbell's appearance in which he spoke candidly of the need to remove the stigma of mental illness.

Finally, the British Library, in its February Readers' Bulletin has appealed for help to save a medieval manuscript, the c.1500 illuminated 'Macclesfield Alphabet Book', described as 'a rare English writing pattern book which has been in the library of the Earls of Macclesifeld since around 1750'. It doesn't state how much they're looking to raise, but further information can be had from Chloe Strickland chloe.strickland@bl.uk

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