Why Do People Go To Literary Festivals, Exactly?

     With Hay Festival and Charleston Festival both happening in the UK this week and my Twitter timeline being flooded with mentions, photos and quotes from both, it started me thinking, why do people go to literary festivals? At a music festival, you go to hear the music played live, at a food festival you go to eat; but a literary festival? It's not like you go to hear the books read aloud. So why do people go, exactly?

     My first thoughts weren't really the kindest: in my head the attendees are all aspiring writers and wannabe publishers, wanting to be in close proximity to greatness so they can declare themselves a contemporary, combined with a little artistic poseuring ('I can't dahling, I'll be at Hay that week' and ‘you had to be there, VS Naipaul said the funniest thing,’), executed in the hope that, as well as making them worthy members of the self-conscious culterati, that they will be picked from the crowd by the professionals for their uniqueness, completed and closeted manuscript in hand, its world-changing radiance clear to even the uninitiated, heralding a triumphant return in a couple of years as 'the writer who was discovered at Hay (dahling)'. 

     Either that, or they're hoping that the essential 'magic ingredient' that transforms an aspiring writer into a published one will be inadvertently dropped by a doyen backstage (something far simpler than 'hang in there and keep writing', of course) and that only that person stood right next to the stage will be the one to hear it so you must make sure it’s you! I wonder what percentage of the attendees are actually aspiring writers/publishers, by the by? Of course, it could be so people can hear more about the books, but if the books are successful pieces of literature, shouldn't everything be in there already? Shouldn't they be able to stand alone?

     Now I realise that most of these thoughts are entirely reprehensible, not least because I am now running a book club and, as you may have noticed, a book blog, both of which are based solely on the idea that there are interesting and illuminating things to be learnt from the deconstructive discussion of books. Also, I've been to two separate Vintage publishing events in the last month or so and very much enjoyed listening to the writers featured there talk about themselves, their creative processes and their books. I even wrote about it here and here. I applaud any celebration of books as a worthy pastime or intellectual pursuit and completely understand that it is fulfilling and tonnes of fun to meet people with the same interests as you. And strangest of all, I REALLY, REALLY WANT TO GO.

     In spite of all that, I still find the idea a little icky - maybe it's the idea of turning the most private of pastimes (i.e. reading) into the most public of events. On consideration, maybe they’re even a little gratuitous; hard-covers faced out so everyone can see being the intellectual equivalent of flashing (not that there’s normally so much scope for that, in a field in Wales). Or maybe the sticking point is that I can see myself in all my perceived stage-hanging wannabes (uh oh). Perhaps it's just that no-one asked me… *sob* *

     I don’t know; maybe it’s just sour grapes?

*This isn't actually true. My civic duty is the only reason I'm not at Charleston right this instant.

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