.Juliet: Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.Romeo: Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take…
Tag Archives: Hay Festival
‘Visiting Mrs.Nabakov,‘ Martin Amis
Martin Amis is one of the most famous contemporary British authors, having been included in The Times newspaper’s list of the fifty greatest UK writers of the post-war period, (not to mention being the son of legendary author Kingsley Amis, making them one of the few parent/sibling writing partnerships I can think of).
I had read one of his novels before, (the brilliantly bizarre ‘London Fields‘), but since this time last year I was on an essay-reading binge, it made sense to read this selection which I had picked up and had signed at last year’s Hay Festival, (which is on right now, if you happen to be anywhere near the England/Wales border). Here are my favourite bits.
On the mind-boggling maths behind chess:
“Recently Kasparov beat ten computers simultaneously, blindfolded. How flattering for the species. There are over 288 billion possibilities through the fourth move…yet the mark of a good chess player is not how many moves he considers but how few…”
On Robocop actor Peter Weller:
“It’s like being in a room, or a trailer, with about fifty different people. Simon Schama‘s new study of the French Revolution is cracked open on the table; so is Teach Yourself French; so is Teach Yourself Italian. He puts down his trumpet, looks up from the stack of inspirational videos…and shouts out of the window for more classical CDs…He hums with vigour. I would too, I suppose, if I got up at three and ran 16 miles every morning…”
Next, Paul Theroux’s greeting to Salman Rushdie at the funeral of Bruce Chatwin:
“‘Salman,’ called out Paul Theroux, boyishly. ‘Next week we’ll be back here for you!'”…
A conversation with Salman Rushdie on hearing that the latter had taken part in a celebrity writer’s football match:
“‘How did you do?’ I expected the usual kind of comedy (sprained ankle, heart attack, incompetence, disgrace). But I was given another kind of comedy, out of left field.
He said, ‘I, uh, scored a hat-trick, actually.’
‘You’re kidding. I suppose you just stuck your leg out. You scrambled them home.’
‘Goal number one was a first-time hip-high volley from twenty yards out. For the second, I beat two men at the edge of the box and curled the ball into the top corner with the outside of my left foot.’
‘And the third goal, Salman? A tap-in. A fluke.’
‘No. The thrid goal was a power header‘…
(I didn’t think I could love Salman Rushdie any more than I do. To be proven wrong is one of the reasons I read!)
And finally, an incredibly descriptive (offensive?) portrait of American writer Nicholson Baker:
“He is, to be sure, fabulously and pointlessly tall…”
‘On Fiction,’ Sebastian Faulks
‘All The President’s Men,’ Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
‘Bad Blood,’ Colm Tóibín
‘The Brief And Frightening Reign Of Phil,’ George Saunders
‘The Omnivore’s Dilemma,’ Michael Pollan
‘Trainspotting,’ Irvine Welsh
‘Noah Barleywater Runs Away,’ John Boyne
‘Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think?‘ ed. John Brockman
‘Breaking The Spell,’ Daniel.C.Dennett
‘Creating A World Without Poverty,’ Muhammad Yunus
‘Expo 58,’ Jonathan Coe
‘Mr.Lynch’s Holiday,’ Catherine O’Flynn
‘The Braindead Megaphone,’ George Saunders
‘The Hunters,’ James Salter
‘Jerusalem,’ Simon Sebag Montefiore
‘Titans Of History,’ Simon Sebag Montefiore
‘Skullduggery Pleasant,’ Derek Landy
‘Philosophy Of Life,’ Jules Evans
‘Mack The Life,’ Lee Mack (x2)
‘The Shape Game,’ Anthony Browne
‘The Looking Glass War,’ John Le Carré
‘Maggot Moon,’ Sally Gardner
‘The Woman Who Changed Her Brain,’ Barbara Arrowsmith-Young
‘Finding Moonshine,’ Marcus du Sautoy
‘The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas,’ John Boyne
‘A Delicate Truth,’ John Le Carré
‘A Little Book Of Language,’ David Crystal
‘The Yellow Birds,’ Kevin Powers
If I am anywhere in or around the continent of Europe in late May, I do my darnedest to end up at the Hay Literature Festival, and this year I had the good fortune of accidentally booking my return flight from Guatemala to coincide with the opening day of the book-bonanza on the Welsh/English border. The fact that I only had time to read one book in the week I was there, (John Boyne‘s beautiful ‘Noah Barleywater Runs Away‘), will tell you how busy I was there.
Mornings began in a small B&B a 7am before I dashed off to the venue site to don my luminous yellow stewards jacket, knock back some croissants and muesli for breakfast, and spend the next 10-14 hours tearing tickets, seating citizens, marshalling microphones around various venues and generally sitting on the sidelines whilst dozens, possibly hundreds of authors, poets, illustrators, entertainers, comedians, statesmen, Nobel laureates and musicians filled my mind, (and the minds of apparently 250,000 ticket buyers).
This year’s line-up wasn’t quite as star-studded as previous years, (and my arrival direct from Heathrow airport via train, rain, bus and foot was an hour too late to catch one of my planned highlights, childhood hero illustrator Quentin Blake, most famous for his collaborations with Roald Dahl). But with a dozen hours a day of people presenting their ideas, this merely meant that there were more new novelists to discover, (as if I didn’t have enough to read already): highlights included former Children’s Laureate, Anthony Browne, whose ‘Shape Game‘ allows children to be artists whatever their level, (and provided the perfect birthday present for my hilarious niece); George Saunders, (‘the new David Foster Wallace‘ and one of the nicest people I have ever had the fortune to meet at the fest); and the Iraq war modern classic, ‘The Yellow Birds‘ by Kevin Powers, the book which came garlanded with the most recommendations by friends working at the festival and which proved to be up to the praise, as I had finished it by the time I had returned home.
There was the chance to meet a few authors of books I have long loved, such as the ‘Trainspotting‘s wonderfully Scottish Irvine Welsh; and to learn a little more about music, (being treated to an incredible hour-long performance from minimalist composer Philip Glass); meet legends of journalism like ‘All The President’s Men‘s Carl Bernstein, and food campaigner Michael Pollan; and hear a fascinating talk on consciousness by New Atheist philosopher and cognitive scientist, Daniel C.Dennett.
But as often happens, the show was stolen by new ‘young adult’ authors who had been recommended by friends working at the festival: firstly I was introduced to John Boyne, whose occasional collaborations with illustrator Oliver Jeffers makes his books as beautiful as they are deep and un-childlike, (hence me refusing to label them ‘kids’ books’): he is most famous for the excellent ‘The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas,’ the story of a Nazi concentration camp told from the point of view of the innocent young son of a Nazi Commandant. Even more powerful was the masterful ‘Maggot Moon,’ by Sally Gardener, the tale of a dystopian 1950’s dictatorship, part Nazi part Communist part ‘1984‘, which hopes to convince the world that…well, read it for yourself, due to the author’s childhood English teachers forcing her to read a certain number of chapters each day, she keeps them wonderfully short, making this an eminently readable parable.
So, a couple dozen more signed books consigned to the depths of The Cupboard, (although, as you’ll see in the forthcoming Books Bought & Read, June 2013 entry, I managed to knock a fair few of them off before I fled the grey UK shores again), and another incredible ten days spent in the world capital of books, Hay-on-Wye. Join me there next year?