How many books do you need to make you look clever?
PUBLISHED: 13:21 03 April 2019 | UPDATED: 13:37 03 April 2019
Conservative MP Dominic Raab has been scoffed at for having nine books behind him on a window sill during an interview with the BBC - surely, it's the sort of thing that could happen to anybody... or could it?
What constitutes the correct backdrop to a television interview?
Dominic Raab, former Brexit Secretary, has been mocked for his books which featured on his BBC Breakfast interview, on Saturday. On the windowsill behind him were two sparse piles of books - all of them political biographies by the look of it. In total, there were nine and - as an aficionado of amateur theatre productions - I can assure you that, when dressing the set of someone who is meant to have a fine mind and gravitas, you do not dress the set with no more than a handful of volumes.
For goodness sake, you can take 20 books out of a Suffolk library, up to 15 in Norfolk and 14 in Essex. In Surrey, wherein lies Mr Raab’s constituency, it’s 20. So there was really no excuse to put out a paltry nine... Was it a last minute thing?
“I think I need to look learned...”
“What about putting out some books?”
“Great idea... nine should do it.”
One of them was about former American President Richard Nixon, one about King Hussein of Jordan, plus a history book by Niall Ferguson. There was also a biography of President Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s autobiography.
I am in no position to criticise Mr Raab for piling up books on the windowsill as this is exactly what I do with my bedtime reading... which, I’m afraid, shows the intellectual depth of a gnat. They are all whodunits and thrillers with the odd non-fiction.
I confess that were I to be interviewed against a background of books that had not been vetted we would be looking at Jo Nesbo, Robert Harris, Sophie Hannah (new Poirot stories) and a smattering of revisited classics.
The responses on Facebook response should these have been visible in my TV interview, therefore, would no doubt veer between suspicions that I have serial killer tendencies and that I am a bit of a lightweight. No to the former, by the way. It is the detective work that appeals to me.
What should Mr Raab have done to avoid comments such as: “Sad that Dominic Raab cannot afford bookshelves, and is forced to place small stacks of politically relevant books either side of his head...”
And this: “Dominic Raab to his assistant - ‘I’m going to be on the telly, run down to Waterstones and buy some books to make me look clever.’”?
Where Mr Raab has gone wrong, is in making it look contrived. It looks as if they have been placed there to impress and if we know anything about the British public it is that they are not easy to impress. Any ploy designed to make someone look just a cut above average without seeming too posh, is going to backfire.
Last-minuting is no way to prepare for a television interview. It is much better to forget about titivating... unless, of course, you need to cover up a small embarrassment - coffee mug rings on the paintwork, a debit card PIN etched into the wood, perhaps.
Mr Raab will not be the first politician to have his TV appearance hi-jacked. Another time - if there is another time - I would advise Mr Raab to go for a vase of flowers on one side and, if he must do books, go for The Concise Oxford English Dictionary and a Hansard.
So who else might use the nine-book gambit? I would guess no one but if they did, here’s a selection od well-known people and possible book choices.
• Jacob Rees Mogg interviewed against the huge open fireplace (fire not lit) and, among the IX books on the mantelpiece, are, Virgil’s Aeneid, Biblia Sacra Vulgata, a Book of Latin crossword puzzles, Baby Names: Fantastic and Unique Names for Girls and Boys (his latest child is named Sixtus Dominic Boniface Christopher), A Short Guide to Keeping Your Hair Parting Straight.
• Katie Price might have her six autobiographies laid out on a chaise in her boudoir, plus “How to Keep One’s Personal Life Private”, “The Power of Pink” and “Reality Shows - how to apply”.
• Jeremy Corbyn might have, on a shelf in his shed on his allotment, nine tomes including “Keeping the Perfect Compost Heap”, “Manhole Covers” by Mimi and Robert Melnick, “Socks and Sandals - the British Way” and a Vegetarian Cook Book.
• Among the nine books on the coffee table beside Theresa May’s chair are “Running Through Fields of Wheat” by Mia Farmer, “Statement necklaces, Kitten Heels and Leather Trousers - a style guide”, “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Try, Try Again”, and “The Joy of Walking”.
Oh, the possibilities are endless - Prince Harry’s “Guide to Moving House”; “Simon Cowell’s Dictionary of Talent Show Clichés”; David Beckham “101 Hair dos”.