Richard and Judy and Me (Debbie Bennett)

Richard & Judy. I remember them as the king and queen of daytime television in the year or so of my life with a small baby when daytime television kept me sane. I don’t know when they stopped presenting This Morning, but these days it’s all about books isn’t it? I’ve not done any Googling or other research to write this, but the R&J book selection seems to be everywhere and being selected pretty much guarantees a book a place on the best-seller lists. Are spots for sale or sponsored in any way? I genuinely have no idea of the integrity of the spaces on this list and I’d be interested to know. 

Do I read R&J books? Yes. Not specifically because they are R&J-recommended – I personally couldn’t care less who shouts about a book or how loudly. I do wonder if the couple themselves actually read the books they promote, though. I note they each add a foreword in their books, but do they write it themselves? Or do they merely add their names to something written in their ‘style’ and/or written from a short synopsis or review by somebody else. Again, does anybody know which? 

I choose my reading material by a variety of methods. There are certain authors I will read sight-unseen of a new blurb – Matthew Reilly, Jodi Picoult, plus others I forget. Other books are chosen from recommendations by other readers and writers, stuff on the shelves in The Works or WH Smith. Social media – show me a good advert with an interesting cover and I may click through and buy. Show me a bad advert with a home-made amateur cover and you have probably lost me as a customer forever. Yes, indeed I do judge a book by its cover. Engage with me on a social media and I may check you out and buy. 

So I was killing time in WH Smith last week. I don’t quite understand how this shop exists outside of a railway platform in 2022 – it’s an anachronism of today’s high street when you can get most of what it sells in other places. Our local branch is small and I expect only survives because it is the only shop in town apart from a supermarket that actually sells current books. That and copious quantities of magazines, although I’m surprised people still buy them, given that most are available online and cheaper these days. 

I bought two paperbacks – R&J stickered – for some special offer, I forget what. It’s not like I don’t have a TBR pile big enough to last a few years, but these things must be done. Cover – check, blurb – check. Intriguing. I open the first book that evening …. According to the blurb, the plot hinges on something happening and the lovely Judy tells us exactly what that something is in the first line of her foreword. Thanks for that, Judy. Much appreciated. Not. It’s a book-club book though – one that will polarise opinions and no-doubt provoke much discussion across the country and then spawn a Netflix drama next year! Good luck to the author, but smacked wrist for Mrs Madeley. I don't like spoilers which is why I'm not naming any books here. Having said that, it was a very good read and I enjoyed it.

Book two. Yes, I’ve been reading a lot this month. Various reasons which I may or may not go into in detail next year. But this book was different. Still R&J but we're more into soft-thriller territory here. This one was disappointing, predictable and flat with no real pace. Even at the climax, when the killer is unmasked, there is no sense of danger or terror; our heroine runs (allegedly for her life?) and the bad guy chases her but she gets away and he meets a random and completely unrelated end. Anticlimax, much? 

I guess the point of this post is to ask how these books get selected for their literary lottery-win and sudden catapult to fame on the massive back of the R&J brand. The first book was a good read, to be fair, but the second was bland and ultimately unsatisfying. And while us writers bleed out onto the page/screen, concoct clever and satisfying stories that fill the soul, heart and gut (and sometimes all three together), this meteoric rise of the mediocre seems grossly unfair.

Or maybe, it's just sour grapes!


Peter Leyland said…
Well Debbie, I've had a look through my boxes of books to be re-shelved after decorating and I couldn't find a single one from Richard and Judy, although I am sure there are. I did, however, find one by Sally Brampton that Good Housekeeping had chosen as their Non-fiction winner for 2008.

Your piece made me think about how we choose our books and with Xmas coming up this is a big thing in my family. I've read library copies of all the Booker shortlist and, no I didn't like the winner, but I persevered because you're supposed to aren't you!!

This year I'm going for Annie Ernaux because she won the Nobel Prize (hope I'm not wrong) and a new biography of John Donne by Katherine Rundell which is another prize winner. "John Donne, Ann Donne, Undone", he is supposed to have said when he got married. I hope that's not true of the book.

Thanks for your post.
Griselda Heppel said…
There’s definitely something going on there. Richard and Judy have enormous power and publishers must push the kind of book that they judge will fit R and J’s criteria though goodness knows what that is. From my experience it’s not necessarily a book worth reading! I’ve tried a couple of R and J recommendations over the years. Both became bestsellers and their writers’ careers soared… and I couldn’t get beyond the first few tedious, badly written, badly plotted, seriously boring chapters. Baffling.
Neil McGowan said…
Thanks for a really intriguing read. I've been thinking about this as well, and more specifically, what makes me (or others buy books) and what affect promotion or endorsement has. I can also relate to the TBR pile (I should post a picture of mine - no idea how many books in there but there are three piles about two feet in height at the moment...)
Debbie Bennett said…
@Neil. My TBR is mostly digital - and if you can't see it, it doesn't count. Does it?

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