Literary festivals are misery: the extreme experience of a writer in intimate contact with his readers

Literary festivals are misery: the extreme experience of a writer in intimate contact with his readers

Literary festivals are misery the extreme experience of a writer

“What did you like best about the festival: the snoring, the bed or that there is no water in the showers?” I was asked at breakfast by a huge Slovak writer, a two-meter-tall guy I was having one of the worst with spent nights that I remember. We were in a mountain hut in the Italian Alps with a bunch of strangers who had signed up for this literary festival.

It was about literature and travel reports, and the format combined hikes – for the public with admission – and talks in the open air in the mountains with writers from all over Europe. On paper, when I received the invitation, it was very well drawn: a few days in northern Italy, landscapes by a romantic poet and time to talk. It was a more than atypical festival where the authors on the bill were part of the entitlement for those who wanted to experience what is now known as an experience.

Little did we know that presenters would also be drawn to the experience. We not only had to entertain the decent ones with a nice chat, but immerse ourselves in the rustic alpine environment until we shared a bed, secretions, snoring and a bathroom with the readers and listeners.

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When we writers celebrate contact with the public, we mean exchanging three sentences at the highly civilized book fair, not listening to the farting at night, huddled together in concentration camp stretchers. However, more cultural managers are imagining extreme ways of enforcing intimacy between writers and readers, and eccentric festivals abound where the guest no longer knows whether they are talking about their books or as a therapist, fake friend, buffoon, dinner party Entertainer or lover who has everything and everything happens.

Writing and reading are not enough. This form of – on the other hand very intimate – relationship between authors and readers, which is based on the act of silent leafing through, is insufficient in this century of the capricious self. Now the book is sometimes just an excuse to justify an events industry in which we writers act as recreational monitors for a fun-loving segment of the audience.

When the organizers of the Älplerfest got into the SUV and drove down to the village to sleep in their houses, we were at the mercy of the shelter owner, a kind of Gargamel, who turned off the lights at ten at night and locked the doors so we couldn’t shower wasted. We wondered why we hadn’t been taken to a hotel after dinner. Participants wanted to have that community experience, but we were only paid (little, but we were paid) to speak and answer questions. Why did they let us sleep like this? Was it perhaps a form of demystification? A memento mori for us and a realization for them that the writers they like snore too?

Years ago, at a festival (this one, conventional) I ran into a mythical rock singer (and although I’ll omit her name out of modesty, the mythical adjective is appropriate). Her hotel room was next to that of a writer friend who she greatly admired and was very nervous to find out she was sharing a partition with her idol. Such a partition was very thin, and in the middle of the night my friend heard sounds that humanized his idol too much and made his journey and the enjoyment of his songs bitter, which no longer sounded the same. The stage isn’t there to uplift the speaker, but to protect the audience, who admire him and don’t want to know that he needs to eat more fiber to move his bowels or that he wears an Expo 92 t-shirt to sleep .

Without going to the Alps, it is quite common for showmen to engage in activities that go well beyond a lecture or round table. Dining with a very small group of readers in a restaurant booth or animate a gathering over coffee in a hotel are now routines for any letter board whose books generate minimal echo in the vault of the marketplace. There are also many coexistences with writers, such as the one they founded in Menorca called Islados, in which a group of readers spends a long weekend with a writer who gives them a workshop.

The Panticosa Spa in the Aragonese Pyrenees hosts the Tocando el Cielo festival in July, bringing together writers and musicians for a very select audience that stays at the hotel. The Transversal Sessions do something similar, but only with writers, in a luxury hotel on El Vendrell beach. There are many more across Europe, and the classic Hay Festival-style gatherings bring guests and audiences closer together with top-notch, intimate activities offered for a little extra.

In these cases, the comfortable rooms and great food make the experience a lot more civilized and less like reality TV, but all are full of absurdity and unreality. At the end of the day, there isn’t a single writer who isn’t wondering what the hell he’s doing with all these people. Perhaps they are apocalyptic symptoms, typical of a society that chokes on books and prefers those who write them to tell them. It has become so commonplace that few writers are able to escape these cycles without condemning themselves to insignificance.

Literary life today consists in avoiding at all costs that the writer writes at home. If the modern novel has done away with the omniscient narrator (the one who knows everything and tells everything in the third person), modern literary life has created a type of omniscient reader to resemble Anna Wilkes in Stephen’s horrifying novel, Misery begins king. The day is not far off when a festival with a single reader in the audience takes place in a remote cabin in the woods. I look forward to the invitation. At least I hope it pays well.

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