It was a lovely day. The sun shone on the daffodils; the scent of hyacinths hung in the breeze; the streets were full of people clutching books.
I need to add that nearly all those people were white - so, in spite of the wonderful multicultural soupness of our society it's not a cross section that makes it to literature festivals. Since I;m certain that a love of books is spread across cultures, I believe this is something that needs thinking about ... I've done far more thinking than those few dots would suggest ... I don't have solutions, but do think it needs addressing.
I was in Oxford for just one day (not long enough - going to Oxford always feels like going home. It's not my student days I ache for, but the vibrancy of the city). I went to three events - which gave me thinking time - thinking is often as much fun as the events themselves.
First - a debate on the whys and wherefores of genre fiction, and whether that is distinct from literary fiction. The speakers were all writers of different genres, each determined to champion her (they were all women) own interests. They were erudite, played with ideas and metaphors, and more or less agreed that 'genre' isn't a useful concept; that whether a book is 'good' or 'bad' (not defined) is the point, not the genre it's slotted into. I suspect that agents and publishers would have argued the alternative with much more vigour than these respectable women.
Then - I went to see a short story writer I'd not heard of. How else am I to discover new thinking unless I take risks and go to see people I don't know? But not many others had the same idea - there were just six of us in the audience, and one was a friend and the other a cousin who hadn't seen the writer for thirty years. I suspect there was a long family story behind that and would have loved the two of them to take centre stage and tease that out. Instead the young interviewer took the opportunity to pick the brains of an established writer. But maybe that didn't matter, with so few people there. I admired the writer for ploughing on regardless and not suggesting we all adjourn to the cafe and chat over tea and cake.
Finally, I saw the Orhan Pamuk interview - at the Sheldonian theatre. There were hundreds to hear him, which isn't surprising. And he was fascinating - though this, too, wasn't without its challenges. I was sitting up in the gods, with my coat to soften the wooden benches but nothing to keep the temperature down. The sound system muffled his speech a bit by the time words reach the rafters; and though Pamuk speaks fluent English I had to listen very carefully to decipher his accent. That said, he was full of ideas and inspiration and enthusiasm. If I have any 'criticism' (too strong a word, really, for who dares to criticise a Nobel prizewinner) - I wish he had developed fewer ideas in more depth. So I'd have liked him to stick to identity, or politics, or Turkey, or religion - it's clear that he has profound and well-thought-out views on all of them, and I'd have liked to hear more about one rather than skimming over them all. But that's trivial - it was a great interview.
Phew. I was knackered after that. So I retreated to a restaurant for a meal before I went home (great food, shame about the noise. If anyone knows a quiet restaurant with good food on a Saturday night, in Oxford, do let me know.)