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Literary festivals are ‘Misery’: the extreme experience of a writer in intimate contact with his readers | Culture

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“What did you like the most about the festival: the snoring, the bed or that there is no water in the showers?” I was asked at breakfast by a giant Slovakian writer, a two-meter-tall guy with whom I had just spent one of the worst nights I remember. We were in a mountain lodge in the Italian Alps, with a bunch of strangers who had signed up for this literary festival.

The thing was about literature and travel reporting, and the format combined walks —for the public who had paid admission— and talks in the open air in the mountains with writers from all over Europe. On paper, when I received the invitation, it looked very good: a few days in northern Italy, romantic poet landscapes and time to talk. It was a more than atypical festival in which the writers on the poster were part of the claim for those who wanted to experience what is now called experience.

We did not know that we rapporteurs would also be dragged into the experience. We were not only required to entertain the respectable with a pleasant chat, but to merge into the rustic alpine environment, to the point of sharing a bed, secretions, snoring and a bathroom with the readers and listeners.

When we writers celebrate contact with the public, we refer to exchanging three phrases at the most civilized book fair, not to listen to us farting at night huddled in concentration bunks. However, more and more cultural managers are imagining extreme ways of forcing intimacy between writers and readers, and eccentric festivals abound where the guest no longer knows if he is going to talk about his books or act as a therapist, false friend, buffoon , dinner entertainer or even lover, who has everything and everything happens.

Writing and reading are not enough. That form of relationship —extremely intimate, on the other hand— between authors and readers based on the act of turning pages in silence is insufficient in this century of the capricious self. Now, the book is sometimes just an excuse to justify an industry of events in which the authors act as monitors of free time for a part of the public eager to live experiences.

When the organizers of the alpine festival got into the off-road vehicle and went down to the village to sleep in their houses, we were left at the mercy of the owner of the refuge, a kind of Gargamel who turned off the lights at ten at night and locked the doors. showers so we wouldn’t waste water. We wondered why we hadn’t been taken to a hotel after dinner. The attendees wanted to have that community experience, but we were only paid (little, but we were paid) to speak and answer questions. Why did they make us sleep like this? Was it perhaps a form of demystification? A memento mori for us and a realization for them that the writers they like also snore?

Years ago, I coincided at a festival (this one, conventional) with a mythical rock singer (and although I omit her name out of modesty, the adjective mythical It’s appropriate). Her hotel room was next door to that of a writer friend who admired her a lot and was very nervous when he found out that she shared a partition with her idol. Such partition was very thin, and in the middle of the night, my friend heard noises that humanized her idol too much and that embittered the trip and the enjoyment of her songs, which no longer sounded the same. The stage does not serve to elevate the speaker, but to protect the public that admires him and does not want to know that he needs to eat more fiber to move his intestines or that he wears a T-shirt of Expo 92 for sleeping.

Without going to the extremes of the Alps, it is quite common for the carny writer to engage in activities that go far beyond a talk or a round table. Having dinner with a very small group of readers in a restaurant booth or animating a gathering with coffee in a hotel are already routines for any letter board whose books make a minimal echo in the vault of the market. There are also many meetings with writers, such as the one they ride in Menorca Under the title of Islados, in which a group of readers spends a long weekend with a writer who gives them a workshop.

In the Panticosa spa, in the Aragonese Pyrenees, the Tocando el Cielo festival is held in July, bringing together writers and musicians for a very select audience that stays at the hotel. The Transversal sessions do something similar, but only with writers, in a luxury hotel on El Vendrell beach. There are many more throughout Europe, and the classic meetings, Hay Festival stylealso promote friction between guests and the public with activities premium and intimate that are offered paying a little more.

Kathy Bates, in the film adaptation of the novel 'Misery', in which a woman kidnaps her favorite writer.
Kathy Bates, in the film adaptation of the novel ‘Misery’, in which a woman kidnaps her favorite writer.

In those cases, comfortable rooms and great food make the experience much more civilized and less typical. a reality show of TV, but all abound in a feeling of absurdity and unreality. At the end of the day, there isn’t a single author who doesn’t wonder what the hell he’s doing there with all those people. Perhaps they are apocalyptic symptoms, typical of a society that chokes on books and prefers that those who write them tell them. He has become so naturalized that few writers are capable of escaping from these circuits without condemning themselves to irrelevance.

Literary life today consists of avoiding by all means that the writer stays at home writing. If the modern novel did away with the omniscient narrator (the one who knows everything and tells everything in the third person), modern literary life has created a type of omniscient reader who is beginning to resemble to the Anna Wilkes of Misery, Stephen King’s terrifying novel. The day is not far off when there is a festival with a single reader in the audience, held in a secluded cabin in the woods. I’m looking forward to being invited. I hope, at least, that it is well paid.

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