I recently attended the Auckland Writers' and Readers' Festival which was abuzz with wonderful creative people capably interviewed by their peers, book stalls piled high with tempting offerings of all kinds and a sense of sharing in the 'thought worlds' of an amazing cross-section of human kind.
There were many highlights but one image in particular stayed with me. Ian Weddde talked of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who in his time could fill a football stadium for a poetry reading and he also described groups of men in Palestine gathering around the radio to hear the morning's poem in much the same way we might listen to a news bulletin to start our day. In troubled times poetry is not a luxury but a necessity and I pictured the people drinking it in to nourish their souls.
Lloyd Geering could fill, if not a stadium, the main auditorium of the Aotea Centre on a Sunday morning for his lecture 'How Humans Made God'. He provided a reasoned, well-structured argument for the idea that the concept of God evolved to fill human needs for meaning and guidance, but has now served its purpose. No longer do we need to look to cosmology for scientific explanations or to a deity to tell us how to live. The challenge now is to turn to loving each other without that intermediary.
The more we share in each other's 'thought worlds' (Geering's term) which are made up of perceptions, ideas, images and self-reflection, the more we can understand each other. This is the power of story-telling whether in the form of the daily news we share with our family, the sitcom on TV, an oral story which is handed down through the generations to record and explain, or one of the millions of printed books which we can so easily access. In all these ways we develop empathy and learn that there are more points of view and ways of life than just our own. From understanding can come love, peace, community.
As it happens, my recent reading has been three memoirs of the writers' experiences of books. Ramona Koval's By the Book gives her life story accompanied by reading in much the same way as people talk about the soundtrack of their youth in popular music. Will Schwalbe used books to pass the time and to connect with his mother whle he accompanied her to her chemotherapy and oncology appointments and he recorded the process as well as a memoir of her life in The End of Your Life Book Club. And The Child that Books Built by Francis Spufford shows how an introverted child coped with grief and trauma by retreating to the world of books.
It has made me think about the role books played in my childhood and how they still do, informing, entertaining, bringing comfort and companionship and taking me to exotic places. More on that later!