The most technologically efficient machine ever invented is the book but as the American novelist Joshua Ferris recently remarked, "If you've spent two hours looking at hundreds of different web pages it's difficult to concentrate on a single story that requires sustained attention." Ferris refers to a clear and present danger; the risk that the retinal bombardment of the internet may be threatening our innate capacity for close reading.
Increasingly, we live in a virtual world where our experiences are mediated and fragmented and somehow more shallow and disconcerting in consequence. We look at so much but see so little. Our butterfly minds flutter aimlessly through canyons of inconsequence. Book Festivals, on the other hand, reconnect us with the real, reminding us that words emanate from a specific consciousness, an intellect – a living, breathing author who is right there in front of us. We see and hear them, not through a digital scrim, but up close and personal and both parties are immeasurably enriched in the process. In that sense, book festivals challenge any notion that the book may be languishing due to the rise of digital publishing.
Guest author Martin Amis, who spoke at the Pavilion Theatre last night, recently recalled a time, in the 1970s, when there were virtually no book festivals. Now, every city, town, village and hamlet seems to have one. Perhaps it's because they afford the opportunity for intellectual nourishment at a time when so many feel disillusioned with traditional forums. Hard to say but what cannot be gainsaid is that book festivals work.
Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown's Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival is entering its sixth year. After five years of steady growth, the festival has built a loyal audience nourished on a diet of high-quality literary events with names local and international. That continues in 2014 with appearances by writers as diverse as Man Booker nominee David Mitchell, bestselling crime writer Lee Child, doyenne of the celebrity interviewers, Lynn Barber, and poets Sinéad Morrissey and Michael Symmons Roberts.
Festival authors are like those warriors who emerge from the jungle, blinking into the sunlight, years after the war is over. After the solitude, they yearn, in Forster’s phrase, “to connect” with readers in the real world. And we welcome them back, avid to hear the latest bulletins from the creative underworld.
Mountains to Sea dlr Book Festival runs from September 11th-14th. Booking at mountainstosea.ie