I've just returned from the sixth meeting of European Literature Days (ELiT), a literary festival held in the small picturesque town of Spitz in Austria overlooking the River Danube. I always get to meet new authors, some not yet translated into English, like the prolific Marica Bodrozic, a Croatian-German author and winner of the 2013 European Union Prize for Literature Prize who really should be available to English readers.
This year we discussed war in world literature today. Sigrid Loffler delivered a lecture entitled 'Narrating the un-narratable inferno' in which she suggested that contemporary German literature shies away from war, preferring 'to retreat into the private sphere, to escape into the realm of the idyllic - to withdraw too readily into the search for private happiness. A favourite theme is the domain of the family.'
The delightful and energetic Andrey Kurkov read from his work and interviewed fellow Ukranian Yury Wynntschuk. Chris Meade (Director of if:book and a Trustee of Modern Poetry in Translation) and journalist Rosie Goldsmith outlined current trends in English literature and this was compared with trends in the German, Spanish and French markets. During one panel discussion we learnt that Amazon has not yet infiltrated Sweden and the two main bookshops there are owned by publishers. Smaller publishing houses would welcome Amazon in their country in order to break these publishers' hold on the book market.
One of the most interesting discussions was on social reading. Digital spaces are changing how we read. We no longer have to read alone. Online platforms encourage comments and annotations to be made to texts. Consequently, the distinction between reading and writing is becoming increasingly blurred. British Academic Dr Leah Tether from the Anglia Ruskin University discussed the similarities between medieval manuscripts and new technology - how rubrics, glosses and illuminations have the same function as hyper texts. The composition of medieval texts relied on oral storytelling and stories were related in various sections at different times. This episodic structure mirrors our approach to digital media texts (clicking on hyperlinks allows you to switch between the main text and other supplementary information). Dr Tether also touched on interactive reading. In the Middle Ages, readers would write notes in the margins of hand-written texts, and their notes were often incorporated into later versions.
Meade discussed a project that he co-conceived with American Bob Stein (The Institute for the future of the Book). They persuaded Doris Lessing to allow them to publish The Golden Notebook online. They then asked seven women writers including Naomi Alderman and Helen Oyeyemi to read the book and conduct a conversation in the margins over five to six weeks. The project was aimed at encouraging a culture of collaborative learning. More recently they have developed an online platform for sharing books SocialBook.
Spitz lies in the heart of a wine growing region and on the last night wine tastings accompanied readings by Swiss novelist and playwright Lukas Barfuss (One Hundred Days and The Sexual Neuroses of our Parents) German Judith Kuckart and Brittani Sonnenberg, an American writer based in Berlin whose debut novel, Home Leave, received rave reviews.
The festival always raises topical issues and introduces me to an array of contemporary European authors.The focus was once again on the extent to which technology is changing our conception of literature and literary markets. The festival organisers have recently received EU funding and plan a series of events in Europe, including two in London, next year. Watch this space.