Roundup: Durham Book Festival 2017


We had a great time at Durham Book Festival 2017, and whether you attended in person or followed the conversation online, we hope you did too. Remind yourself of some of the book chat and thought-provoking discussion in our reviews roundup.

One theme that emerged was that books are not simply about entertainment. Rather, they can change the lives of individual readers, and affect the wider world for the better.

In The Anna Karenina Fix, Viv Groskop amusingly, but also poignantly, highlighted the ways Russian literature had helped her to reflect on her choices in life. Something similar happened with Allan Jenkins and Alys Fowler, who began writing books about their love of gardening but discovered that, in fact, the act of writing itself provided real therapy in overcoming traumas in their lives. Elsewhere, Lyndall Gordon spoke about five women writers who by speaking out in the face of adversity had spread a hopeful message that social change and renewal is possible.

In this era of fake news, writing that reflects deeply and thoughtfully about turbulent political events has to be of value. So too is writing that goes beyond attributing blame or dividing people into tribes.

David Goodhart questioned the simplistic explanations for the vote to leave the European Union, and instead identified how many voters were making a cry for help in an age when their identity is threatened by globalisation. Similarly, Robert Webb’s How Not to Be a Boy acknowledged, in a refreshingly frank way, why some men too feel under pressure from changing concepts of identity, and suffering a crisis of masculinity as a result.

For novelists, writing about current affairs poses particular difficulties that memoirists like Webb or journalists like Goodhart don’t face. But three writers – Benjamin Myers, Alexei Sayle, and Lionel Shriver – rose to the challenge by reimagining the events of the past year in a fictional form, treating the news as a novel.

From the present to the past, Durham Book Festival also reminded us of the importance of literary tradition in generating new ideas. Lucia Scigliano-Suarez and Aalia Ahmed reminded us in their reviews of Discovering Dante that the Italian poet is, with Shakespeare, the originating genius of Western literature.

Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them there is no third

Literary traditions also landed closer to home, in a series of events that reminded of how the North East is a kind of pantheon for poets. One highlight was undoubtedly the Rich Seams Poetry Gala, which brought together eleven of the North’s newest and best writers to celebrate new verse. The Festival also welcomed back some familiar faces from slightly further afield, in the shape of Sinéad Morrissey (former Festival laureate), Tara Bergin and Colette Bryce for the Poetry Book Society showcase. Lastly, Bob Beagrie took us on a journey that was local in nature (from Hartlepool to Whitby) but distant in time (drawing inspiration from medieval Northumbria) in his new epic poem, Leásungspell

This is just an overview of some of the great events that went on during Durham Book Festival 2017. If you went to something that you particularly enjoyed, do fill in the Durham Book Festival questionnaire.

Durham Book Festival may be over for this year, but every month there are numerous book talks, free public lectures, and literary discussions throughout the North East. Subscribe to our North East Literature Events newsletter to ensure you don’t miss out. 

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