Or to put it another way: when I pick up a novel, is it merely a question of a free-floating individual, the absolute, unconditioned me, picking up any literary performance from any time or clime and simply deciding after an hour or two whether I like the thing or not, so that when the final page is turned it is immaterial whether this book was written in Manchester or Melbourne and whether I grew up in Gloucester or Grozny?
I am trying to find a frame for the recent debate on the British school literature  syllabus, a way of considering the question that will take us beyond the merest collision between supposedly blinkered nationalism (UK education secretary Michael Gove wants Charles Dickens) and supposedly enlightened openness (the writer Robert McCrum and Guardian readers prefer John Steinbeck). I also want to suggest that the fact this debate is taking place at all is part of a deep change occurring in the way literature is written and read across the world, a change also reflected in the decision to open the Man Booker prize to all fiction written in English.
Or is it rather a question of me as member of a community, steeped in my national culture, picking up a novel that may or may not have been produced in that same culture, within or without a framework of shared assumptions? If this version is more accurate, then my reaction to a book might very well depend on where it was written and where I was born.
For example: a boy from a well-to-do Cheltenham family is given Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, recognises in Hogwarts school a caricature of his own public school – certain teachers seem to be drawn from life! – and is thrilled to see his familiar world transformed by witchcraft and magic. Meantime, a middle-class girl in Bangkok is given a copy of the same book; she finds the magic surrounding Harry and company rather bland but is bewildered and delighted by a bizarre education system that subjects its precocious children to eccentric teachers in remote and bleak environments. What we think about the relationship between writer, reader and community matters; the question of whether writer and reader, at the deepest level, share a common language, is not an irrelevant one.
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