Tag Archives: Bok och Bibliotek

Susanna Clarke was there

No, we would not sit at the back. For this event the teenage Son insisted we descend all the way to the bottom, and front, of the cake slice shaped auditorium at the Gothenburg Book Fair. Uncharacteristically I followed him and actually sat a long way from the door.

This was fifteen years ago. Perhaps not to the day, because the fair happens when it happens, and it just so happens that it begins today. The online 2020 Book Fair. Then, it was our first, and we’d come in search of Philip Pullman, but once he’d been dealt with, we had a list of others we wanted to see.

Susanna Clarke was one of them. The bookshop we used to frequent had a lovely, well-read girl working part time for them, and it was she who had suggested Son might like to read Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. He did, and he found it good. (I could never quite manage it.)

We both liked her event, and this was so new to us, and Son enjoyed being able to go up and chat to the various English-speaking authors as ‘one of them’. At the time I don’t believe we realised quite how exhausting the public event lifestyle is for an author.

I was made aware of how tired Susanna Clarke was in this Guardian interview the other week, when they spoke to her in connection with her next novel, Piranesi, which is out now. It’s been a long time, but I don’t blame her. Chronic fatigue is not much fun.

So what was the start of a book world whirlwind future for us, was perhaps the beginning of an essential period of rest for Susanna. I’m glad she’s found her way back. I hope the Gothenburg Book Fair does all right, and that we will all meet again at some other live event or book festival, but that we will also take it easy and not overdo things. None of us is getting any younger.

(I almost said older, which proves how tired and confused I am.)

And I like Susanna’s thought that ‘one day, there will be the wardrobe’.

To boycott or not to boycott

That is the question.

While I have boycotted various things in my life, I am a firm believer of the ‘time out’ technique you are recommended to use with tantrumming toddlers. It also works well in many other circumstances.

Currently 127 authors are boycotting the Gothenburg Book Fair in September, because the organisers are allowing the right extremist Nya Tider to exhibit again. There was a furore last year, but they had a contract which had to be honoured.

This year I understand the organisers are allowing them back on the basis of freedom of expression. I feel they are correct in doing so. I only wish they had kept quiet about it, because this way all sides are shouting too loudly and there is attention given to what would have been better ignored.

I understand where the boycotting authors are coming from, too, but ignoring the bully is the better method. The alarming electoral results all over the world are in part due to this kind of educated middle class rage towards what they [we] feel to be wrong.

I wrote this seven months ago, soon after my visit to the Book Fair. Whenever I think back to this woman now, I feel vaguely dirty. I’ve wished I’d known when we spoke. But what could I have said? This way I learned what she believes in, and I didn’t appear as a raving opposer of what she supports. We even shook hands.

Fair memories

The Gothenburg Book Fair starts today. And no, I’m not there. I did consider it, and at one point recently I thought maybe I could combine it with going to the dentist. Your ultimate ‘buy one, get one free.’ But I dare say books and dentistry aren’t ideal bogof partners.

Gothenburg Book Fair

I’m very fond of the Gothenburg fair. It’s not quite where bookwitch was born, but seeds were certainly sown. At the start, it felt like I’d be going every year. When I’d been going for three years it definitely seemed like I’d be returning faithfully every September.

But then other things happened. It wasn’t always an ideal time to travel, and when lots of other book festival type events closer to home became more and more important, I actually had to choose. Shame, but we can’t always have everything. In fact, I’m too decrepit to cope with doing everything.

There are always interesting people invited. But for it to work for me, it now needs to be people whose work I know, and who I’ve not already seen somewhere in the UK.

Nice furniture

They are probably better than most at offering Nobel prize winners. And there is something about the way you accidentally come across some very famous people. The comfort and design of some of the hidden away seating areas beats Edinburgh any day. No mud. No rain. But interminably long and uncomfortable queues for the toilets, which Charlotte Square seems to cope with surprisingly well.

Frank McCourt

You’re allowed to pop in and out of author talks, as and when you like. The auditoriums are very comfortable. But the tickets are expensive unless you buy a pass for the duration. It’s still pricey, but you get a lot for your money.

If you don’t want to do that, you get a lot of short, informal talks ‘down on the market floor,’ absolutely free. In fact, one of my favourite Swedish blogs is supplying its teen bloggers to chat to Cornelia Funke at one of the stalls this year.

They haven’t yet invited Meg Rosoff, and I really think they should. I’ve told them often enough.

Fan with Jacqueline Wilson

But Amos Oz, Desmond Tutu, Sara Paretsky and Philip Pullman aren’t bad names to be getting on with. And although we initially went for Mr Pullman, I think one of the valuable things for Son was meeting half the people he knew in Sweden at the fair. We went with School Friend and needed somewhere to sit down for lunch. It was very crowded, so I sent Son ahead to scout for seats.

He came back saying he’d run into Pippi and her companion, and they were saving their seats for us until we got there. So School Friend and Pippi finally met, courtesy of books. And there was Librarian Husband of Cousin popping up all over the place. The Cousin herself popped as well. And eldest Cousin-Offspring. And the artist who makes our favourite calendars.

I know. You’re not impressed. It’s just that we have spent years chasing round to meet up with people on our ‘holidays’, and here they were being served up just like that, ‘all’ at once.

And now we have facebook (what’s left of it) and I am friends with people I saw at the fair, and the ones in Sweden are busy getting ready to jump in and enjoy the books for the next four days. And I’m a little jealous.

That’s all.