Originally written August 2011 for Fest magazine’s website: http://www.festmag.co.uk
The first week of EIBF is over and, correspondingly, today was rather reflective. I spent much of it in the gardens, people-watching and enjoying the first full day of sunshine of the Festival.
The longest queue of the day was for the ice-cream stall – of which I’m yet to sample the delights – or at least, it would have been if Alexander McCall Smith hadn’t had an event on. His third event of the Festival, the somewhat fawningly-titled Audience With One of The World’s Most Charming Authors was predictably sold out. Those that inevitably missed it need not despair, though – simply come along to Charlotte Square one afternoon to feel like you’re in a 44 Scotland Street novel: absurdly-named children, formidable Edinburgh ladies and gentle witticisms seem to abound.
On a less irritable note – honestly, I am a big fan of at least the latter two things in that trio – today saw a change to the daily Amnesty International event, hosted for the first time by Scottish PEN, part of the global PEN organisation which campaigns for threatened writers and encourages cross-cultural exchange. The readers today were Beth Cross – who had host Jean Rafferty close to tears with her reading of the poetry of Liu Xiaobo – Thamima Anam, Karen Campbell and Siddharta Deb. All spoke about how privileged they feel to be able to express themselves freely, unlike so many others: an empty chair at the side of the stage was a rather poignant reminder of the myriad writers who could not be in attendance.
Finally, I went to the Guardian debate in the Spiegeltent, The End of Books?. Chaired by Andrew Franklin, it featured Ewan Morrison arguing that the end was indeed nigh for the printed word, with Ray Ryan taking the counter-argument and literary editor Claire Armitstead providing a “wishy-washy liberal view”, as Franklin charmingly put it. In fact all three speakers were incredibly eloquent and persuasive, but given that I have gone into more detail in a separate article, suffice to say here that although my mind was not drastically changed I now feel much better informed.
Today aptly illustrated the passion that people feel about literature, whether with regards to being allowed to write at all, or the form in which we consume it. In light of the Amnesty event, though, part of me feels that the debate about the digitisation of books should not loom disproportionately in our minds: trite though it may sound, it is worth remembering that even the contemplation of this issue is a luxury that many cannot share.