Book Slams, The Future of Books and Frankfurt Book Fair
Here's a hard truth: fewer people read now than before and ones who do read are reading less.
There is a controlled panic about this throughout the publishing industry. There had been a hope - however much we all hate Amazon and technology - that young people would take to the kindle and start churning through books with the intensity that they treat Snapchat and Instagram. Turns out kids like paper even more than adults do, and even that is insufficient to persuade them to read more.
So while I was at Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest book fair, I attended an hour and a half seminar of experts grappling with how to get people who don't normally read, to read. You know, how to expand our reader base. I thought I had an answer.
The previous night I had attended a book slam at the House of Barnabas, a private club on Soho Square which gives all its profits to the homeless. In the back of this rather large and imposing brick manor is a private chapel. And in the chapel, they hold book slams. That is, authors reading from their own work for our pleasure. That night, two Man Booker prize nominees were reading, including Paul Beatty, whose dark humour in his book, The Sell Out, had the audience in stitches. I was not at all surprised that he won the Man Booker Prize several days later. He deserves it.
To go back to Frankfurt: During the Q&A, I stood up and suggested that the industry needs to take books to the people, rather than waiting for people to come to the books. I suggested that we need to hold book readings in pubs. We need to have public events around books that are engaging and not terribly serious. We need to make these events cheap and accessible. We need to have fun.
There was, to put it politely, some resistance to that idea. An across-the-board consensus was quickly reached that I was completely and totally out to lunch. This was so eloquently explained to me in heated, if broken English that I ended up apologising for my crazy idea.
Two days after the book fair ended, I was in the Bread and Roses pub on Clapman Manor Street with a standing room only crowd, listening and enjoying spooky ghost stories being read aloud by professional actors and actresses. We were raising money for Motor Neuron Disease, an appallingly debilitating condition that kills within three years. Odd as this sounds, we were having a heck of a good time listening to new and old classics: Neil Gaiman, Edgar Allan Poe, Saki, Ambrose Bierce, and Claret Press's own Sarah Gray.
Dare I say it? It was fun. I tell you, I have seen the future.