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):
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.
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!
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
- had the ability to talk about their book, instead of just reading an extract
- 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!
I’m slowly adjusting to life back at home and hope to have a review or two ready for you soon.