Lit Chic: Social justice and solitude

Day nine of the Festival (I just had to count that on my fingers) began with my first Bonhams 10 at 10 experience. This is, as the name suggests, a free ten minute reading from an author appearing at that day. Today Celia Rees read from her forthcoming novel This is Not Forgiveness, which is – on the surface anway; she wasn’t giving much away – about a boy coming to terms with his brother’s death. Given the short time available to her, Rees managed to have the audience fairly rapt with attention, although – rather incongruously for an event in a venue labelled as the Writers’ Retreat – she had to contend with an awful lot of traffic noise.

Next on my list was Owen Jones in the Peppers’ Theatre, for which a queue was already building an hour before he was due to start. This predictably sold-out event (the venue is fairly tiny, and his book Chavs: the Demonization of the Working Class has been incredibly popular) aimed to investigate, to quote host Ruth Wishart, “why the working classes have gone from revered salt of the earth to reviled scum of the earth.”

Jones began – rather predictably, he said “it’s all anyone has asked about” recently – by talking about the riots. He told the audience that he feels there were “very few political sentiments at all” from those involved, and that events were inevitable: “it only takes a handful of people with no future to cause this … all young people want to be part of a consumer society” he said, suggesting that mounting consumerism was a key motivation – aggravated by high levels of unemployment. He also pointed out that London is “one of the most unequal cities in the whole world. It’s different to Paris where the poor are in the suburbs – affluence and poverty mix and are both very apparent in London.” In places like Hackney, he suggested, proximity to prosperity is essentially “taunting” those struggling financially.

Of the many questions asked by the audience during the event, he engaged with most readily with one asking how we find jobs for the young working class where they actually feel valued. He said: “The old industrial jobs are never coming back. We need to take example from countries like Germany and focus on things like new energy and mass insulation of homes across Britain. We need to focus on creating very skilled, well paid jobs to give people a structure and a future.”

I left feeling that it is a real shame Jones has no intention of going into politics – he said that “we don’t need people like me in politics … I can literally think of nothing worse” – because he seems to have a real knack for making people question the system and their own political viewpoints.

Anyway, as interesting as his thoughts were, I’d had my fill of political debating by the time it was done. So rather than join the throngs in the signing tent, where more arguments were undoubtedly taking place, I basked in the sunshine in the gardens and watched the queue build for Neil Gaiman (again) across the square. Rumour had it that his partner Amanda Palmer was accompanying him, but she was nowhere to be seen.

The other big event of my day was A L Kennedy in the RBS Main Theatre. Not being acquainted with Kennedy beyond knowing she has recently made a foray into the world of stand-up comedy, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I certainly wasn’t prepared for an hour of impassioned pleas for truth, a practical guide to spending time alone, and an incredibly moving eulogy to her grandfather – but that’s what I got. Despite having to fend off some rather bizarre audience questions (one person asked her whether she would consider cloning herself, to which she responded by saying: “Technically I could just breed – I do like gentlemen, it’s just that the gentlemen I like resemble me so closely that the baby would still be in the womb at 15 months, going ‘I just don’t like change’”) she spoke warmly and engagingly about her research and writing process. I left feeling simultaneously emotionally and intellectually stimulated, a potentially rather overwhelming state of being that I’ve had to get quite used to over the course of the Book Festival so far.


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