Normal people who work outside of book publishing get the fear when they see an author approaching a stage carrying a book. They hate being read to because it reminds them of their parents' attempts to talk to them in animal voices, and they get angry when seeing an author fumble for reading glasses because they think the author is copping out, trying to 'get away' with not doing any real work.
Normal people are a tough crowd.
You see, for most people who aren't literary fiction fans - reading is an intimate activity to be done at home on your bed with next-door's cat and an open packet of Twirl Minis. It goes hand in hand with being able to get up and go to the kettle. Reading is not a social activity, and yet book events are still fixated on the author's mouth moving.
It took me ages to work this out because I worked in publishing where, until 1996, you could still be stoned to death for speaking out against book readings. The first book launch I went to was in an office where there were more Twiglets than people and there was only one bowl of them. The author hid between filing cabinets as if he was worried the Stasi might burst in at any moment, and the Production Editor, who was still working, shouted throughout the speeches about French folds quotations. I thought it was inestimably glamorous but then I worked in publishing. What did I know?
Yet the words 'Book Launch' still has acute cultural cache. Friends of mine are rabidly jealous of all the book launches I go to, right up until the point I take them to one.
Book events have always been a bit lacking in sensuality, because providing cold, delicious wine only encourages people to stay longer and drink more of it, and who's going to pay for that? The book launch structure has remained unchanged since Moses' Mount Sinai bash, and it goes like this: Turn up. Drink one glass of wine or three bottles (anything in between is not acceptable). Buy the book. Make sure the author knows you've bought the book by waving it in their direction. Go to dinner, or if you've taken the three bottle option gatecrash the author's dinner, and pat your pocket forlornly when the bill comes.
Yet suddenly, somehow, since round about now, this model has broken. Authors, publishers and readers want something more of their book event, and increasingly non-readers want to get involved with the authors and their ideas. After a decade of being able to get everything on the internet we've concluded that books are sexy - knowledge is sexy - and audiences like knowledge and sex particularly if they don't have to do any actual reading.
Which is why we've run Salon London for the last six years, our format is to take an idea and look at it laterally from an art, science and a psychological point of view. We try to make it easy for people to come from work (London: give us your tired and hungry, and we'll make them tipsy yet informed). But there's only so much you can cover in two and so we decided to take a risk and put it in a beautiful sculpted landscape for three days and test out just how much sensuality and books people want.
And so next weekend for the summer solstice we will launch our first ever three day book event: The Also Festival - enough time to engage with the biggest ideas in art, science and psychology without having to read all the books. We have good heritage, having curated non-fiction content for the big festivals for years. We've watched audiences grow, becoming receptive to complex subjects, and sometimes when it isn't even raining. We know that the festival is the easiest place to have a book spelled out to you, and the English love of summer festivals is increasingly about being a place to have new ideas and new experiences and so we decided we had to do our own.
With The Also Festival we've become the first summer festival to put the spoken word content where the music normally sits. We've got The Neuro Science of Dance Music as well as actual dance-music, food trends from a Food Futurologist as well as street food, and Philosophy Breakfasts that allow you to contemplate more than your tent mate's snoring in the morning. We're a new model of festival, centred around big ideas but without the earnestness, ensuring the sensual pleasures of summer: eating outside, cocktail culture and dancing in a tent.
Because, as it says on my tattoo: 'just because I read doesn't mean I don't like fun', and if literary events aren't for you, but fun, culture and brilliant content are, come and join us.Suggest a correction