A Week in Edinburgh

I’ve just returned from a wonderful week in Edinburgh. I visited friends, enjoyed the comedy of the Fringe Festival, and saw some great authors at the book festival. Here are some of the highlights (and one disappointment):

Daniel Tammet

I have been a big fan of Daniel Tammet since I read his autobiography, Born on a Blue Day, and watched the documentary in which he showed the amazing power of his brain by reciting Pi to 22,000 places and learning Icelandic in two weeks. In the past seven years he has changed a lot. He is no longer the quiet, shy man seen in the documentary. He is confident speaker who engaged the audience with his passion for mathematics; entertaining people with amusing stories and a vast amount of knowledge.

Thinking in Numbers: How Maths Illuminates Our Lives

His new book, Thinking in Numbers: How Maths Illuminates Our Lives, aims to show mathematics in a new light; encouraging people to enjoy its many different forms. Daniel cunningly explained that mathematics is very like literature in that both contain many different genres; no-one will like all of them, but everyone should be able to find at least one that they love.

He also explained how important literature has been in his life. His autism means that he had difficulty understanding other people, but fiction has enabled him to have a better understanding of social interactions. He recommended War and Peace as he loved all the complex calculus sprinkled through the story!

If you get the chance I highly recommend seeing him as his outlook is unique and thought provoking. I’ll be reviewing his new book at some point in the next few weeks – it is very good so far!

Elliot Perlman

The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper is one of my favourite reads this year and so I was excited to hear him talk. He was an accomplished public speaker and very easy to listen to. He explained that he had the idea for the book when he lived in an apartment opposite a New York cancer hospital. Every day he got a bus from outside the hospital and he witnessed the amazing variety of people who mingled on the street there. Groups of people who would never normally meet were forced together, often at a difficult emotional time. Perfect for setting up a great story!

It took him 6 years to write the book and he did a massive amount of research for it. I think it was well worth every year he spent and I encourage you to read it soon.

The Literary Death Match

I had heard a lot of positive things about this global literary event, but unfortunately I wasn’t very impressed. The title led me to believe that people would pick their favourite book and then argue passionately about why it was so amazing. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. Four authors read extracts from their own books and then 3 judges decided who read best. There are several problems with this:

  • Authors are rarely the best person to read their book
  • If you’ve read the book already then you learn nothing new
  • The audience doesn’t discover amazing books, only newly released ones plugged by the author
  • How are judges supposed to decide who reads best? It is all meaningless, especially when trying to compare different genres

I’m afraid I found it all so dull that I walked out during the semi final. Perhaps I was just unlucky? I can’t blame the authors (who did their very best in the circumstances) but it would have been much better if they’d

  1. had the ability to talk about their book, instead of just reading an extract
  2. chosen their favourite book and talked about that.

Have you had a better experience at a Literary Death Match?

Baby Wants Candy

Nothing to do with literature, but I highly recommend this Canadian improvisation group. They invented an entire musical on the spot based on an audience suggestion. It was amazing to watch the speed of their minds – they created an entertaining story that had me laughing the entire way through. Look out for them!

Back Home

I’m slowly adjusting to life back at home and hope to have a review or two ready for you soon.

13 replies on “A Week in Edinburgh”

Tony, LOL Yes, that is exactly what I think of! I then toned my imagination down to the socially acceptable and thought the authors might at least argue with each other…shows how titles can cause disappointment when they fail to deliver.

I am TOTALLY intrigued with Tammet. I’ve not read his books, but I remember you talking about him. Anybody who views math in this way, and is just so gifted is an enigma. I think it is wonderful that he has come out of his shell and can handle the public speaking. It would be a shame for the world not to meet him. And I’m thrilled that Perlman was a good speaker. I would be so sad if he were boring, since he writes such smart literature (making a note reminding myself again that I need to read his latest!).

Sandy, You should read Tammet’s autobiography – I think you’d enjoy it. I now need to read all Perlman’s earlier books. I’m hoping they’re as good as this one.

Oh, this sounds like so much fun! I have gone to the literary festival in Toronto twice and always had a good time. I have also been lucky that the author readings I have attended have been very good (Jasper Fforde is so wonderfully charismatic, if you ever get the chance to see him do a reading, it is well worth it!), but I don’t think the tournament sounds all that interesting. Far better to have the authors answer questions (like Miss Universe!) and judge them on that then on how well they can read their books.

Steph, Literary festivals are normally fantastic, but I don’t like it when the authors read too much. I normally attend talks after I’ve read the book and so I much prefer it when they talk about it and add more information than is already on the paper. I’d love to hear Fforde talk so will keep an eye out for him. Glad to know he is good.

So jealous that you got to go! I wanted to but it worked out too expensive and the events I was interested in weren’t concentrated within a few days so I’d have had to go to just a few events, or stay for longer and see more. It just wasn’t worth the trip. But there are festivals here, too, so I’m sure I’ll be able to go to some interesting author talks.

I loved Born on a Blue Day too and I would have loved to hear Tammett speak (he was on my list if I had been able to go). Nice that you were able to catch up with friends and saw some of the fringe festival too!

Judith, I also had a problem with the concentration of events at the festival. I really wanted to see Binet talk about HHhH, but it was a week late and several other authors were the week before. I wouldn’t have come up especially for the book festival – especially if I were flying in from another country. Hope you find a good festival to go to soon.

Well, that were exactly my thoughts, Jackie: not really worth it coming from another country for.

I have also been looking into the Cheltenham Bookfair and it has similar issues, although I might go if I could find a cheap hotel (the flight is very reasonable). Not sure though.

Here in the Netherlands, there is a cultural market in Amsterdam this weekend, where theatre makers, musicians, but also publishers and bookshops present themselves, so I’m thinking of going to that.

Then the Big Event is Manuscripta, the weekend after, which is the “official opening of the book season” which really just means a big literature festival but just in 2 days. There are something like 7-10 different talks, signings, readings, etc. going on *at the same time*, so very many on each day and it will be hard to choose what to go to. Then there are also stands from publishers presenting the books that are coming out in the next half year or so (no free books like BEA, though).

I’ll be meeting Amanda Hodgkinson (22 Brittania Road) on that Sunday, together with some other lucky people, so that will be good fun. I hope. I will be reading the book soon. What if I don’t like it? 🙂 I expect I will like it a lot, though.

Judith, I’m thinking about going to the Cheltenham festival too. I’m a bit sad to hear it has the spacing issue too 🙁 But if you’re going I might have to ensure I attend. Let me know if you decide to book that flight.

Enjoy your time with Amanda Hodgkinson and all the other literary events you decide to go to.

Sounds like an amazing time (well, except for the death match, which sounds lifeless). And I love love love watching improv. It is so exciting and interesting and the creativity amazes me.

Jenners, It is amazing how quickly some people can come up with entertaining improvisation. If you gave me a whole week I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything as good. I plan to watch a lot more in the future.

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