Once upon a time during summer vacations I was for some reason sitting in my office at the Department of Comparative Literature when a call came from the University phone exchange. "Someone from the press, they said. Asking whether there is any expert in fairy tales at the university. We tried your department. You were the only one in". The press had reached the right person for fairy-tale expertise, but the question was weird. An American movie star was having an affair with a "simple" Swedish girl. Everybody was talking Cinderella story. The press wanted to know exactly what the Cinderella story was. Next morning I was quoted in 300,000 copies.
Apparently they kept my name on the file because when princess Diana died and everybody was saying she would become a myth, the press called me, bypassing University phone exchange, to inquire what exactly a myth was.
It's strange how you can become a dedicated expert on journalists' files. What obscure things haven't I been asked to comment on! A couple of times I was on hold when the Nobel Prize in literature was about to be announced, in case it was a Russian. Even now, four years after I have left Sweden, Swedish media call me every now and then, and I can never guess what they might want this time. A recipe for Russian pancakes or a comment on Lord of the Rings?
When BBC called me yesterday I had a quick rush of thoughts: Olympics? No. Has some important children's writer died? Hope not, too many have died this year. Ahh, Fifty shades... No, I haven't read it. My instinct of self-preservation keeps me away from it. I had to read Twilight and Hunger Games and Divergent for professional reasons, but thank goodness I am not an expert on Mom porn so I don't have to read Fifty shades. Not even Forty-nine shades. Still, could I please say something..? About the phenomenon... marketing... social media... reader engagement..?
For a moment of weakness I considered getting the book on Kindle. Then I decided that life is too short. Ars longa vita brevis, as we used to say when I worked as a film researcher, and a long and boring film was screened.
I had done my homework by the time they called again, as well as some contemplating, and I referred confidently to Gone with the Wind and The Thorn Birds, much to the reporter's surprise. (Where have all the thorn birds gone?)
Although I could not help thinking about the old evil times in the Soviet Union when all sorts of people said or were forced to say: "I have of course not read Solzhenitsyn, but he is a bad writer".