Friday, May 27, 2005


I spent the day in Hay-on-Wye today (for various reasons I'm on a long break, which gives me time for such lazy things). It happened to be the first day of the book festival, and being an occasional Guardian reader - they sponsor it - I'd expected this to be quite a big deal. But there weren't that many people around, save for the usual American tourists who find their way to such things, and with programme highlights including "An evening with Max Boyce", the awful Timothy Garton Ash and Roy Hattersley, I can quite understand why.

And I've always wondered why people go to book festivals at all, even when the big name attractions are greater. Particularly at Edinburgh, where there's so much else to do, why would anyone want to spend time listening to people who are usually far less interesting in person than in print read out sections of a book you're quite capable of reading for yourself? I saw Jeanette Winterson at Edinburgh once, and while she was mildly entertaining, I'd rather not have spent that two hours sitting under swelteringly hot canvas, listening to erotic fiction in the company of a hundred middle aged women, even if they were mostly lesbians.

So who goes to these things, and why? My own excuse for going to events at Edinburgh is a desire to get in a bit of every festival each year, but that's an odd brand of completism rather than a real enthusiasm for spending time in tents with the floral print brigade. Books are great, but for me their appeal is pretty much restricted to the printed page (or, these days, screen). Beyond that, you're either listening to someone tell you how writing about little Johnny's work in the diamond mines changed their life, or arguing with someone about your interpretation of the rape scene on page 503. The one experience is better covered by TV soaps; the other by irritating graduates in seminar rooms. Why would anyone pay for this sort of thing?

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