Welcome Back Bookfests! Happenings across the Globe

Literary Festivals and Contemporary Book Culture by Millicent Weber

A Little Back Story

Like most performing arts, literary and book festivals are slowly returning in a new, hybrid format that includes both live in-situ and remote online audiences. As one of my favourite indulgences, hearing authors read and talk about their work is something I find captivating, inspiring and uplifting. I am not alone in this experience, as a good deal of qualitative and mixed method research projects are beginning to unearth and demonstrate similar outcomes, not least of which is Dr Millicent Weber’s multi-site ethnography of various events in Australia, USA, UK and beyond.

While Millicent Weber’s (2018) book emerged in the couple of years pre-pandemic, the insights remain valid and can certainly still inform event planners and researchers alike, going forward. They did, in fact, help to inspire and inform my own mixed methods ethnography of audience experiences at the Ninth Belfast Book Festival, 2019. Here are a few extracts from my dissertation – I found the project exciting and enjoyable and hope that comes across! Firstly, where did book and literary festivals spring from?

“…While book signings have been part of author promotion for decades, the consumption of literary festivals operates on a much more expanded level, with their diverse programmes and a more interactive dynamic between audiences and presenters.  This world of Literary and Book Festivals displays both cultural and commercial aspects, and is linked to an upsurge in reading groups, to the recent expansion of the Independent Book Shop industry, and with the tendency towards arts promotion through the festival model, globally…”

What are book festivals for? For authors…

“…Authors spend a good deal of time on tour when promoting a new release and as such are becoming more and more like musicians and others in the performing arts. Book sales and book signings have become ubiquitous features of all events that form literary festivals…”

And for book lovers, it’s…

“…the informative, inspirational and pleasurable qualities of event experiences, feeling combinations of being ‘fired up’ and ‘spellbound’… It was also clear that the Festival provides many patrons with opportunities to connect socially and to share celebrations with family and friends…”

Ultimately…

“…Literary festivals are open for business: for authors to engage with their audiences; for aspirational audiences who desire personal growth and wellbeing; for organisations with plans for social engagement; and for marketers who seek to help consumers fulfil their needs, hopes and dreams…”

Here is a little potted summary of the project findings:

  • motivations and experiences were described by audience members across three emergent categories:
  • Cognitive-cultural (knowledge, empowerment and literary activism);
  • Emotional (inspiration, feelings, passions, hero worship and author charisma);
  • Social (connecting and sharing resonant atmospheres in ritualised, liminal spaces of escape).

(click here or on the image below to view my presentation on the design, findings, insights and recommendations).

What’s happening around the world?

Finally, book and literary festivals are thriving again as Dream Vacation Magazine has listed the Top 25 literary festivals worth a visit – I’m choosing Berlin next, travel permitting… what’s your choice?

Happy Reading

Into the Zen Zone: My Big Three Inspirations for 2019

image of book cover ten to zen by Owen O'Kane

ten to zen book by Owen O’Kane

1.  Hot off the press, psychotherapist and workshop facilitator Owen O’Kane’s book ten to zen is a welcome, practical guide to developing a meaningful, do-able meditation and mindfulness practice as part of everyday life.

As the author explains,  this ten minute daily routine is more of a workout for the mind than a rigorous regime. Just like a physical health drive, ten to zen is designed to keep our brain, mind and soul healthy and effective.

By explaining and describing each step of the ten minute workout, ten to zen helps us to lean back from stresses and strains for a brief breathing space each day,  ultimately enabling us to master anxiety or fear and to embrace and transform our experiences into  joyful living.

Still working my way through the book, I will testify that already I sense a shift in my perspectives and a more optimistic and connected relationship with family, life and the world.

Highly recommended, click the mage or in-text title for more details (I claim no affiliation to any sources linked or cited, just keen to spread the word), and here is the full citation: O’Kane, Owen (2018), Ten to Zen: Ten Minutes a Day to a Fuller and Happier You, UK: Bluebird.

 

2. While appreciating the fresh take on mindful living in ten to zen, every once in a while I revert to the Master of Zen for the western world, Jon Kabat-Zinn, for his deep yet accessible, and again highly applicable, works. So now, re-reading Full Catastrophe Living wherein there are so many gems and nuggets of wisdom and insight, I have to say the world is looking rosier by the minute.

My first encounter with Dr Zinn’s wisdom was through his numerous recorded talks on YouTube, as well as a free audio-book of Wherever you go, there you are. Here’s a brilliant starter for ten that enlightens us to the facts that we are not our thoughts, they are self-limiting phenomena and don’t need to be fought, just liberated. Here’s ‘Your Thoughts are Bubbles’:

 

3. I never cease to be amazed at the ways in which each teacher shares these profound truths and joys of mindfulness and meditation in their own unique, inspirational voices. Perhaps it is that they are all coming from different traditions and disciplines, and that in itself is an uplifting and enriching encounter. This is something that struck me in an intense way when I received my most recent new year reading list title, The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haimin Sumin.  The format is quite different, with wise comments and quotes set out almost like a poetry collection, interspersed with beautiful and captivating illustrations by Youngcheol Lee (2012, UK: Penguin Life). This is my night-time book and certainly worth finding. I wish you all a peaceful, inspired year for 2019.

Picking up on Poetry: My Workshop Experience

Book ID Parade

On Developing My Poetry Journey by Roberta McDonnell

I just spent ten weeks under the online tutelage of celebrated Irish poet Kevin Higgins and I cannot tell you how transformative it was. Not only did we receive tremendous weekly prompts and expert edits from Kevin, but we were able to read each other’s work and the group members were so encouraging and informative that I feel like I have just been through an intensive, high level tutorial.

There are more online courses to come and anyone interested can sign up at the Over The Edge website. Kevin runs face-to-face courses in Galway Arts Centre as well and produces the fantastic monthly Over The Edge poetry reading events. You can sample some of his work in the book Identity Parade (just click on the link below or the image above) and in numerous books, journals and newspapers, including his own published collections.

For anyone interested in poetry writing, particularly if distance and finances are challenging, Kevin’s affordable online course is a brilliant opportunity to push your own envelope, get some expert feedback and some fabulous peer support. All with a bit of a start to perhaps your first collection, who knows? I for one can testify to the value of this kind of tuition and will keep going, spurred on by the great community at Over The Edge.

Image Link

Three Poets and All That Jazz: Dylan (the Bob one), Bowie (the David one) and Philip Larkin’s Record Diary.

image of three books on Bob Dylan, David Bowie and Philip Larkin's essays on Jazz

Three books came my way this Christmas, each about a unique artist and all with very different styles and perspectives.

 

Poet #1

Before Bob Dylan became the 2016 Nobel Laureate for literature, one academic in particular had already been teaching his poetry students about Why Dylan Matters. Professor Richard Thomas has now gifted us with these insights in a highly engaging read that is impeccably researched and to be enjoyed by academic and pure listener-reader alike. The Guardian hailed it with Music Book of the Year 2017 and here is one reader in total agreement.

Growing up and attending school during the 1950s in a small Minnesota town, young Robert Zimmerman absorbed a  multitude of cultural influences that included Roman and Latin Classics amid other literary fodder. Later on, as he ventured forth into the wider American scene, Dylan explored modernist poets like Rimbaud and the writings of Beat authors like Jack Kerouac, all of whom helped shape the unique lyrics of the Bob Dylan canon. Yet the attachment of those words to a musical frame of increasingly sophisticated quality takes the singer-songwriter into a further dimension, one of musical virtuosity that draws from deep roots in American folk to begin with, then blues, country, rock and beyond. It is this intensity of musicianship combined with poetic lyricism that create the sheer enjoyment, intrigue and love of the Dylan canon for me personally and no doubt for many other lovers of Dylan’s work.

Throughout Martin Scorcese’s documentary film, No Direction Home, Dylan describes himself as a musical expeditionary and this is reflected in the ever-changing variety of styles and genres he has adopted to form his trailblazing career. Within that career as musician-lyricist, he is also no doubt a poet. His work, like poetry, exists as a multi-layered treasure, to be enjoyed anew with each listen.

 

Poet #2

In David Bowie: A LifeDylan Jones adopts a chronological-biographical frame, populated by personal interviews and anecdotes from many of David Bowie‘s friends and contemporaries. In a clear avant garde tradition, Bowie songs seem to me to come from a symbolistic origin, whereas Dylan’s, at least early on, were more of a social commentary. Bowie’s abstract style is also a commentary of sorts, more focused on the inner life or inner space, as well as, paradoxically, the vast cosmological context of life – outer space – and on how that can be articulated through the media of the body, clothes, words and music. Bowie articulates alienation like no other.

Jones’s book is a ‘warts and all’ description of David Bowie’s life, especially the earlier ‘rock star’ years, yet it is also a fond and adoring one. We encounter the artist, driven by a creative instinct that was compelled to manifest in a continually renewing vortex of personas, music, lyrics, visual art and styles, with bodily appearance acting as a blank canvas and the stage as pure theater. As I have argued before, Bowie is a shapeshifter par excellence, a hurricane of creativity in relation to the forming and transforming self.

I found this book fascinating and an enriching addition to my indulgence in all things Bowie, especially the way in which the author brings us behind the scenes of the world in which he moved. Many individuals were involved in the ever-changing Bowie project, all of whom fed into what we know and love as the Bowie classics. Read the book.

 

Poet #3

My final consideration in this triad of Christmas gift books is the collection of essays and reviews of contemporary Jazz, written for the Telegraph newspaper from 1961-1971 by the Hull based poet Philip Larkin. Reading this book is like a safari into Jazz history, describing artists like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday as their recordings filtered in from the United States and Europe, as well as some well known band leaders within Britain itself, like Kenny Ball and Chris Barber.

While the merits and demerits of Larkin’s life and work are topics of considerable debate at the moment, there is no doubt that he loved Jazz and the people who created it and that, in his own words, in the final analysis, ‘what will survive of us is love’ (An Arundel Tomb).

Another Hull poet, Andrew Motion, has written extensively on Larkin’s life and work and presented a captivating portrait of him on the Sky Arts ‘Passions’ series. The following snippets are from the program and summarise Larkin’s offering as ‘glittering verse that spoke directly to, and about, post-war Britain’ and the uncertainty of life. It is this directness and connectedness with everyday life that forms Larkin’s appeal, welded to an ability to ‘create beauty from despair’. As Shane Rhodes contends, ‘He was incredibly accessible for an academic poet’.

In All What JazzI find the articles informative and fun. They have sent me off on a new pilgrimage into jazz music and songs, some reminiscent of growing up with my Dad watching Kenny Ball and his Jazzmen on TV, others complete revelations, especially the voice of a lady singing with the Chris Barber Jazz Band. She’s called Ottilie Patterson and she hails from Comber in Northern Ireland, just up the road from my home in Carryduff. Here she is; what a voice?!

 

 

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