The last thing I need is more books. I already have a strict regular culling policy and have developed the ability to cross the road any time I happen to be passing a bookshop – just in case. You see, I have a problem. My name is Lou, and I love books.
Last week was Bath’s annual Literature Festival, sponsored by the Independent. I live in Bath. You can see where this is going, can’t you?
I have basically spent the last couple of days rolling around in books. It’s been marvellous.
I didn’t even go to that many events: the list of things I wanted to go to was as long as my arm, but many of them sold out long before I got a look in. Being new to Bath (and not terribly organised) I hadn’t realised just how much of a Thing the festival was.
Hint: it’s a Thing.
After a fair amount of dithering, I got myself sorted with some tickets to a couple of talks (sadly, one I had to miss at the last minute because of a deadline. Boo) and off I toddled.
The first was Sarah Dunant‘s “Getting Under Their Skins: Art, History & Fiction”, which turned out to be an utterly fascinating exploration of women in the Renaissance – and particularly in art. “Did women have a Renaissance?” Dunant asked: where were the female painters of that period (the Great Mistresses, I guess)? Were there young women who could have become great artists, but who never got the chance because of the world in which they lived? It was funny and clever and completely enthralling.
The second event was “How to be a Booker Judge”: a panel of three former judges (Natalie Haynes, Rick Gekoski and Alex Clark), discussing what it means to be a Booker Judge, and talking about the process… including the injuries that come with it. Temporary blindness? Check. Mouth ulcers? Check. Exhaustion, and a tendency to cry at the thought of reading anything ever again…? Check. The panellists talked about their experiences of narrowing down the submissions to the long- and then short-lists, and how their various years had come to their decisions. It was also a very interesting insight into the way the judging is run, too: I’ve been one of the judges for the British Fantasy Awards in the past, and having been involved in a process like that it’s always illuminating to see how it works elsewhere.
The discussion also touched on the idea of the purpose of awards, and what they actually mean: whether they’re to raise the profile of a book, or all books and of reading in general. Are they there to reward a writer, or to help their career? What are the criteria for winning a Booker – and can it ever really be subjective? (Answer: “being the best book”, and “no”.)
I learned a lot. I laughed a lot – but more than that, I came away feeling more engaged and positive about books – about reading – than I have done in a long time. I bought books – including one I’d never heard of, by an author I’d never read before (Mark Dunn’s epistolary “Ella Minnow Pea“) purely because Natalie Haynes was so enthusiastic about it when she mentioned it. Read a little about it, and – like I did – you’ll see why.
The Literature Festival was warm. It was friendly and inviting, and the spread of people and events there was fantastic.
I finished it off by getting all dressed up (like an actual grown-up! In a dress! And heels! I know!) and – along with my friend Kim Curran – heading out to a literary reception held around the largest of the Roman Baths.
There was champagne. There were sequins. There were canapés on trays and everyone keeping their distance from the edge of the water because high heels, dim lighting and uneven paving don’t always mix…
It was wonderful.
My name is Lou, and I love books and book festivals – and I’ll definitely be going back again next year.