May 19, 2012

Writers Festivals Save Lives

We've all heard the phrase “Books save lives", but who knew that Writers Festivals can save lives too?

Actually, when it comes down to it, it's not often literally true that books save lives. I only know of one case, that of the Spanish writer Michel del Castillo. Books saved his life when, aged seventeen, having already spent ten years in concentration camps of one kind or another (from the one for “troublesome foreigners” where he and his mother were interned when they fled to France during the Spanish Civil War, to the forced labour camp in Nazi Germany where the Vichy government saw fit to send him a few years later, and finally the Franchist camp where he was interned as the son of a Red as soon as he was repatriated to Spain at the war's end), alone, penniless, desperate at not being able to get back into France where all his family was, he jumped off a bridge into the River Ebro to put an end to his nightmare.

As it turned out, the fall didn’t kill him, but the double pneumonia he caught from his swim was about to, if not for the fact that the doctor summoned to the squalid pension where he was staying caught sight of two books on his bedside table. They were The Brothers Karamazov -- del Castillo had discovered Dostoevsky, interestingly enough, at the Jesuit college where the Franchist authorities had sent him after his internment -- and Nietzsche’s The gay science.

“Have you read those books?” the doctor asked. And went away. And came back the next day, bringing a new antibiotic he had just been sent a supply of. He had decided this was a person who had the mettle to be a test subject for this unknown drug, called penicillin.

So that’s whose life has been saved by books. And whose life has been saved by a Writers Festival? Well, mine! It happened on the Saturday morning. I so wanted another coffee but realised I could not linger a minute more if I wanted to hear about the future of the novel. I jumped into my car and took off, smiling at our neighbours and their kids heading towards their car as I pulled out.

Three minutes later (so I heard when I got home) my neighbour realised that he had forgotten something in the house and ran in for a moment. Meanwhile, his four year old daughter managed to lean out of her carseat and release the handbrake, sending their large van careening right through the spot where I would have been sitting had the lure of the festival not been so strong. It crashed right through our fence, that's how big and heavy it was, which is why the little girl, thankfully, was not hurt. Looking at the pile of boards and splinters which had been a fence, I realised that my little car, and me inside it, would certainly have been crushed.

So there you have it! Writers Festivals save lives!

Can books take lives as well as save them? I loved this festival exchange between Iain Sharp and Brian Boyd, talking about Prof. Boyd's current project, a life of Karl Popper, which has been a "to do" for him for something like twenty years. You have to imagine Iain's lilting Scots cadence and amused, quizzical tone.

(Iain) Popper had a long life...

(Brian) Yes, damn him!

(Iain) Bartley had started a biography of Popper but died before it was finished.

(Brian, darkly) An omen.

Here's a video from our friends at Electric Literature with yet another idea on how books can save lives:

Ditulis Oleh : tosca // 03:00


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