Newer posts are loading.
You are at the newest post.
Click here to check if anything new just came in.

Book festivals bring out the brains in Britons

Turn off the TV, put down the papers, and take a tour of Britain's book festivals. We are a lot more cultured than you think

Book festivals are exceptional events that prove something interesting about modern Britain: that it is a much more cultured place, with a far deeper hunger for knowledge, than you would ever guess by watching television or, a lot of the time, reading the papers.

I've been on a bit of a festival tour this summer, performing at Hay, Ways with Words and most recently Edinburgh. The level of engagement you get with audiences is stunning.

In a way, the success of Edinburgh is the most impressive of all because it takes place as part of this city's famous festival season, in direct competition with the fringe and other festivals. In fact the book festival site is just up the road from the Assembly Rooms on George Street where, for comparison, I saw Richard Herring do standup. He was funny, especially when he imagined being in a bike race with Jesus, but the contrast between the passive audience experience at the Assembly Rooms (laughing as if primed with electrodes, often before the joke) and the question-and-answer, talk-to-the-author electricity of the book festival was telling. There is arguably more real life and energy in the book festival than in other "live" cultural forms – and this goes too, of course, for Hay, where a performance by historian Niall Ferguson was one of the best and funniest one-man shows I have ever seen.

As serious entertainment, as provocation, as a chance to get under the skin of culture as it is made and ideas as they are formed, Britain's book festivals make a mockery of any belief we are getting dumber. They raise the question: is it just the media and politicians who are dumb? For it seems Britain is full of people who want to talk about really interesting stuff. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

No Soup for you

Don't be the product, buy the product!

YES, I want to SOUP ●UP for ...