“I read a book one day and my whole life was changed.”
― Orhan Pamuk
This week I have enjoyed being a part of the Melbourne Writers Festival. I have attended three events and have thoroughly enjoyed them all. I am embarrassed to admit that while I occasionally attend bookish events, this is my first writer’s festival. I wish I could have attended more events!
My first event was seeing Melina Marchetta at the Doncaster Library talking about her new book Speak the Truth, Shame the Devil. Melina is one of my top 5 authors and I was ridiculously excited to meet her for the first time. Her new book sounds amazing and it was a joy to hear her talk about past characters. There is no doubting Melina’s passion for writing and the stories she creates. I could have sat there all night… she is amazing!
My second event was called ‘Why I Read’ with Magda Szubanski and Damon Young (an Australian philosopher). It was a fascinating talk, pinpointing key moments in their reading histories. They discussed the books that have inspired and influenced them as people and as professionals. The usual suspects were there – like Enid Blyton – and many other authors and books I had never heard of or read. They spoke of the power of children’s books and what readers find so attractive. Adventure books are always a favourite and Young suggested this is because they allow the characters to experiment and explore without authority and judgement. They are full of goodness, something that can stay with a reader for life.
Magda spoke of the difficulties she had reading during adolescence when she was facing difficult personal experiences. The reasons were something I think can apply to a reader of any age; it has been quoted many times that one reads to know they’re not alone. However, if a reader cannot see themselves or their experiences in a book they may lose interest. Of course, this doesn’t apply to all readers however I think we can all agree that at some point, we have gone searching for something in our books for comfort. I know I do it – often!
Damon was there to promote his new book The Art of Reading and the last question asked of him was ‘what makes a perfect reader’? Damon suggested that a perfect reader doesn’t exist but rather a good one does. He suggested that a good reader is one who is curious and courageous. He suggested that courage is knowing when to stop reading or step back from a book. I completely agree with this; there have been times when I have picked up a book and persevered to the end and disliked it, when perhaps I should have put it down and picked it up again when I was in a different frame of mind. There can be many reasons to put down a book and maybe we should be a little less afraid to do so! Magda added to Damon’s answer by suggesting a good reader is like a good listener – they have the ability to see what the writer is trying to say without imposing their views over the top.
It got me thinking… am I a good reader? I consider myself to be a good reader. I have read a smattering of classics, I adore Australian literature and constantly indulge in children’s books. I consider myself to be an open-minded reader; despite having clear ideas of what I like and don’t like, I am happy to be persuaded to try something outside my comfort zone. I find great pleasure in many different genres and am not ashamed/ will not be shamed by my choices. I read to learn and I read to escape but most importantly, I read for myself and my pleasure alone. I can be a little judgemental, however I try and reserve my judgement until after I have read the title in question so at least it is informed judgement… this is definitely something I will be working on! Just because I don’t like something doesn’t mean it won’t be perfect for someone else!
The third event was discussing bibliodiversity- what is this, you ask? Bibliodiversity is publishing that is diverse and inclusive of all cultural and racial backgrounds. It involves publishing and curating stories from the ground up, ensuring that every voice – no matter their religion, sexuality, race, culture or disability – has a chance to share their story. There was a definite skew towards feminist publishing and giving women a voice however Indian feminist publisher Urvashi Butalia spoke of the importance of publishing in different languages, not just English, the language of power. It was fascinating to listen to the challenges and responsibilities of these publishers when ensuring the stories are told without offence, prejudice or stereotyping. This is obviously an incredibly hard thing to do!
Listening to these women speak made me quite sad; I work in an international publishing house and I find it really disappointing that the smaller publishing houses, the ones with most to lose, are the ones taking the biggest risks to bring readers the most diverse stories. I am definitely guilty of reading what is right in front of me – usually what I am seeing on Instagram – and not seeking stories outside of the mainstream. This is also something I will personally be working on.
Overall, my Melbourne Writers Festival experience was a great one as I got to meet one of my all-time favourite authors and also gained a little perspective on the industry I love, and the activity I enjoy more than anything, reading!!