Bookends

Bookends: Disarming but disingenuous

14 April 2012

9:00 AM

14 April 2012

9:00 AM

At first glance, Be the Worst You Can Be (Booth-Clibborn Editions, £9.99) by Charles Saatchi (pictured above with his wife, Nigella Lawson) seems a rather distinguished book, with its gilt pages bound in what feels like genuine Gnomitex, and this impression persists until one begins to read it.

The title page explains the format — ‘Charles Saatchi answers questions from journalists and readers’ — and the first page sets the tone: ‘If you had a bumper- sticker on your car,’ asks a journalist or reader, ‘what would it be?’ And our modern Maecenas replies: ‘Jesus loves you. But I’m his favourite.’ (Boom boom!) So it’s not a distinguished book. It’s a toilet book.

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Nothing wrong with that, of course. My favourites in the genre are Bacon’s Essays and Thackeray’s Book of Snobs. And it’s quite witty to dress up a toilet book in Bible livery, and appropriate to the author’s twin careers in advertising and the art trade. The trouble is, as toilet books go, this one is a stinker. The kindest thing one could say is that it lives up to its title.

The most pertinent question is, ‘Why do you want to answer all these questions from people?’ Saatchi’s reply is disarming but disingenuous: ‘I can’t write. I can handle bits of simple-minded advert copy or a poster slogan, so answering questions is about all I’m good for.’ Yes, but why? Out of monstrous vanity, or a disinterested love of meretricious rubbish, or both? Not for the money, surely? Which raises another question: why would anyone buy this book?

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