The Emerging Writers’ Festival kicks off today (see Kill Your Darlings appearances here). We asked EWF director Lisa Dempster to give us her recommended reading list.
The role of a literary festival director is ironic in many ways: the closer the festival gets, the more time one spends talking about books and writers, yet the closer the festival gets, the less time one has to read. That said, I am highly lucky that outside of festival month, my job involves a lot of reading, as it’s a major part of my role to unearth and encourage all kinds of writers at all stages of their careers. What I read is not just limited to books, but covers a whole gamut of media – blogs, journalism, zines, magazines, film, even music. So I always have an enormous to-consume pile that never seems to get any smaller no matter how voraciously I attend to it. (What a great problem to have!)
With the festival upon me, I have extremely limited time for reading, and when I do get a second to myself I turn to reading books rather than things on screen. (That may have something to do with the weather – living in a freezing Coburg terrace, I spend my nights huddling under blankets!) I admit, at this time of year, whenever I do get a moment for books I turn to my comfort genre – travel writing.
I have been reading adventure travel books since I was a kid and I can really never get enough of it, daydreaming about where I might go next and losing myself in other people’s journeys. People often dismiss this genre and I agree there is plenty of dross. However, there are also some amazing gems. My favourite travel books are Tracks (Robyn Davidson), In Turkey I am Beautiful (Brendan Shanahan), Congo Journey (Redmond O’Hanlon) and anything by Ryszard Kapuściński. I am also profoundly in love with Peter Carey’s travelogues, 30 Days in Sydney and Wrong about Japan.
I am pretty scattergun in my approach to reading; I often have several things on the go at once. The exception are big novels that just invite you to absorb them almost in one sitting, locking yourself in the house to read them across one weekend. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was the last book that called me to do that. But at the moment I’m trying to read mostly Australian books, because EWF authors are mostly local. Once the festival is done, I’m looking forward to diving into Anita Heiss’s Black Book Challenge, a great list that all Australians should be aware of.
I am a chronic re-reader and I often think about texts long after I’ve closed the covers. I especially return again and again to books that moved me when I was a teenager; I never seem to be as torn apart by reading now as I was when I was young, when it felt like my whole world could shatter and be rebuilt in the space of a single novel. But when I return to the books of my youth I get to capture a little bit of that feeling again. I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading Loaded (Christos Tsiolkas), Monkey Grip (Helen Garner), The Ground Beneath Her Feet (Salman Rushdie), Naïve.Super (Erlend Loe) and Looking for Alibrandi (Melina Marchetta).
People often ask me to recommend reading. At this time of the year I usually point them to the Writers page on the festival website. I pick writers for the festival because I think they have something interesting to say, so it’s a big, somewhat chaotic list of fascinating writers across all forms and genres – plenty to keep you entertained and informed over the coming winter months!