Thursday, 5 March 2015

The magic of stories and books

This World Book Day, Alison Barrow, University of York Graduate and Director of Media Relations at Transworld Publishers, reflects on the transformative and magical effect books can have.

Photo: d221 books by az. Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.

A significant privilege of working in publishing is the encounters one has with authors, with writers, editors, and the creative people who help bring their stories into the wider world.

Last week over one thousand people gathered under one roof in Central London to celebrate the gift of words. It was the Penguin Random House annual conference. I was there. Variously we were stimulated, provoked, delighted and moved by a stageful of writers.  All were individual and distinct but one note chimed consistently high. Writing and books transform lives.

I'm not a writer. I am a reader and book promoter. So I hope they will forgive me when I steal from the two writers we heard whose words still echo around my head two days later. They put voice and words around the reasons I love the magical world in which I work. Novelists Anne Enright and Rachel Joyce spoke with passionate eloquence about the power of words to a rapt audience. Afterwards, smiles were broader, cheeks were damper, heads higher.

"Reading is a kind of wildness," Anne Enright told us. "I write because there is something I can't work out . . . Who are we when we are alone? This is what a novel does. It makes our questions beautiful."

"We need stories and we need books. We read them and we write them to give a voice to what we don't know," said Rachel Joyce. No matter if fiction or non-fiction, poetry or picture book, we need them all because we must keep trying to understand."

Photo: 031/365 - The Reader by Antoine Robiez.
Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence.
Most of  the questions and some of the answers. This is what books can give. There are so many, many things which we don't understand (we never will). But books open the doors to some responses and offer deep connections with other minds and ideas. More than that, books only truly come alive when they are read. And further, when they are shared and that connection ignites a literary electricity which bonds us together.

"People need books," said Rachel Joyce. "I mean, we really need them. Quiet, ordinary people like me. Books come alive for readers and meet them, in the privacy of their homes, or as they sit alone on a bus. The books have said, No, you’re not alone. Because that thing you feel, I feel too."

Clarifying and uniting - but a small reflection of what reading can do. Libraries and bookshops are the places where we can take the first step on that journey. Discovering for oneself is exciting, and sharing that discovery links us to the place in which we live. And then afterwards, books have a life beyond the writer, beyond the publishers, beyond the bookshops and libraries, in the imagination of the reader. How magical is that?

The Green Road by Anne Enright will be published on 7 May 2015 (Jonathan Cape)
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce is available now (Doubleday)

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