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Author's delight at Henley Literary Festival
by Jenny Minard
BBC Berkshire reporter

A C Grayling
A C Grayling attended the festival in Henley

This week saw hundreds of authors descend on Henley to give talks, share anecdotes and encourage reading.

As the Henley Literary Festival draws to a close, BBC Berkshire finds out why reading is alive and well.

"I don't think that people don't read anymore," said author Anthony Clifford Grayling.

"It's certainly true that the readers in the population are a fragment of the population proportionally and they always have been.

"The fact that the population is getting bigger means that the absolute numbers in that fragment get bigger as well.

"The publishing industry will tell you, but then they always do, that they are in big trouble and yet year-on-year more books get published.

"Whatever the means of delivering text to people in the next few years are, there are always going to be people who want to read.

"The people who do read - they are not limited. If they buy 10 books in a year, if they find an eleventh they like, then they'll go for it.

"So I'm not too despairing about it, even though the screen seems to have taken over.

"It might just take over that encounter with literature that people in their small proportion still love."

Changing times

So it seems that Anthony is not frightened by new technology which allows you to view books electronically.

"You've got the reader at one end and the writer at the other end," he said. "Then between that you've got the means of delivery of the text.

River and Rowing Museum
The River and Rowing Museum hosted some of the events

"We've already got audio books, we've got books being turned into films and television shows - so there are lots of different ways stories and ideas can be transmitted from the author of them to the consumer of them."

But he did suggest that digital methods would not spell the end of books, nor the publishing process.

"We still need expert filters. We've got the internet where you can publish your own stuff and 90 per cent of what is published on the internet is a load of rubbish.

"If you're good at the internet and you know what you're looking for and you can evaluate what you find there is a lot of useful stuff on the internet.

"If you buy a book, you know it's been through a publishing process, you know it's had an editor, you know it's been revised, proofs have been checked, and even though bad books are still published, that expert filter means that the chances are a bit higher that most books are ok.

"Self-publishing on the internet loses all that. So people will begin to look for those things which they know have come through a certain process."

Anthony, who is also a professor of philosophy at the University of London, explained the need for literary festivals such as Henley's which is now in its fourth year.

"I'm a big fan of literary festivals, they encourage people to read of course but also to do the next thing - to talk about books," he said.

"The great thing about society is that it ought to be having a conversation with itself at all times.

"Book festivals are a wonderful opportunity for that to go ahead."

Author's connection

Anthony, who is a supernumerary fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, explained the difference between teaching and writing books.

"When you're teaching you have a curriculum - the students will be doing exams and you have to work towards that.

A.F.Harrold
A.F.Harrold read poetry at special events over the week

"When you're at a literary festival, you're talking about something you yourself have written, which people are going to read and ask you questions about.

"There is a connection between what you do with teaching and the kind of thing you're trying to put out into public debate - there is an overlap.

"The opportunity to talk in Henley is one for a more informal type of engagement.

Anthony who is an philosophy expert explains why reading is essential for the progression of the discipline.

"It's encouraging people to open themselves up to philosophy. Everyone thinks it is really difficult and they won't understand it, but they will if they go for the more ancient parts of the tradition which are very accessible.

"Unfortunately, more recent philosophical writing isn't like that."

For more information about the River and Rowing Museum go to the website.




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