The Rise and Rise of the Literary Festival

Once again we are delighted to be the onsite bookseller at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival. Whilst the amount of time and nervous energy that this takes up is huge we wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world from 2nd-10th April. Logistically it is the biggest operation that we run outside of the shop. This year will be the 15th installment of the Festival, growing from a very small affair into arguably the third most important literary festival in the UK behind Hay and Edinburgh.

Against a backdrop of economic uncertainty, cuts to cultural programmes and the oft-predicted demise of the traditional book are we at the pinnacle of festival fever?

The growth of literary festivals over the past years has been much commented on, my observations on this are as follows:

  • whilst writing and reading are essentially solitary pursuits our general need for sociability and communality have not diminished over the years, but the opportunities for them have. Whereas location and family used to be the natural drivers of collective behaviour this is being supplanted by groups drawn together by common activity e.g. football and festivals
  • book festivals are seen as having an intellectual stamp of approval – being seen at them is a positive statement, and it gives a definite feelgood factor to attendees
  • whilst authors are not necessarily the best ‘presenters’ in the world they are often unnervingly honest and they are amazingly accessible at these events. To see the real person on whose printed words you have feasted on can be truly inspiring, especially those unexpected nuggets that shine new light on a book. I remember seeing David Mitchell a few years ago when he mentioned that, having written each of the narratives in Cloud Atlas separately, he hadn’t seen the finished structure of the book until it was published.

With our position at the geographic heart of festival means that we often see, feel and hear the ‘buzz’ when a particular event is so good that the enthusiasm of the audience spills out into the marquee and grabs the attention of everyone there. If you ever doubt the power of books then you should experience this – it is truly uplifting.

Books matter and this most communal of activities for book-lovers are the perfect place for you to renew your vows. So, who are you going to see?

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