So now that the Literature Festival season has come and gone, we find, strangely enough, that we have no regrets about having missed them all this year. We did not however, let our inability to attend, interfere with keeping track of the various programmes. But for some reason, this year, none of them really appealed to us. This is not discounting the fact that when you are there, the atmosphere takes over and everything seems that much more exciting. But from a distance there was a vague sense of it all being pretty much the same. As there are every year, there seemed to be a mix of big international names (major award winners), the usual suspects among the Indian writers (CB, AT, GD, GK – see if you can guess who they are), the glamour element with the few Bollywood personalities or TV chefs, one or two poets and the odd politician (preferably with wavy hair). The programmes tend to cover current events, free speech, gender and women’s rights, publishing issues and issues in general concerning the whole world.
PS: Which is all very well but what about issues concerning other worlds? I think it all becomes boring after a while because genre fiction is either ignored or hugely underrepresented.
LL: Is it because they call themselves Literature Festivals that they feel the need to display typical literary snobbishness and refuse to consider genres like mysteries/crime, sci-fi and fantasy as literature?
PS: How come the snobbishness does not extend to Bollywood, media and politicians? Are they really more literary than say Ruth Rendell, P.D.James or Terry Pratchett? We have to presume that none of them were invited when they could have actually come.
LL: It looks like festival organisers don’t want people discussing books, the media wants controversies and that’s what they want to give them. Readers of genre fiction are a notoriously boring lot who are very book specific. They are only interested in discussing the book and not just the book but the entire series with the author.
PS: So if Lit Fests are really interested in eyeballs and the media, they should invite people like GRR Martin. That would definitely attract attention these days.
LL: Unfortunately, it seems that certain genres like sci-fi and fantasy are left to comic cons. And then there are people like Donna Leon whose mystery books are great and she has readers here in India and more importantly it seems she is waiting for an invite. When I met her at a book signing, a few years back, she had said as much to me. She is also a very entertaining speaker and so is Neil Gaiman for that matter.
PS: Surely the festivals need to encourage variety in reading and writing. Why invite only Booker award winners like Eleanor Catton but not writers like Ann Leckie? After all, her book Ancillary Justice is the only novel to have ever won all the major Sci Fi Awards including the Hugo, Nebula, BSFA Awards, Arthur C.Clark Award and the Locus Award.
LL: If Amazon takes over the sponsorship of Lit Fests, if this year is anything to go by, then everything might end up looking more and more similar, depending of course on which books they want to promote. And yes, the programme sheet might be filled with asterisks and footnotes saying things like ‘if you liked this event you might also want to check out…’
PS: Plus the programmes and events will depend upon which publisher they are having a spat with at the time. Or, whether the author to be featured, has achieved the minimum number of book sales on their site.
Sorry, we do seem to have gone on a bit about Literature Festivals but with so many of them around, it becomes difficult to avoid discussing them. We also have to say that there are Indian writers of genre fiction who are present at the festivals but Indian readers do get to interact with them during book signings etc. There are bound to be many readers who would like the opportunity of meeting the international writers of such genres.
However, despite any grouse expressed, we must also say that we are very glad that so many people take the trouble to organise Lit Fests as, at the end of the day, they do ensure that books are still read. Or at least, talked about.