We are getting dangerously close to the festival, just a little more than three weeks away! Scary. I don’t want to see boxes of programmes lying out in the office (apart from the ones going to the Royal National Hotel) and we are frantically dispatching the ones that are left. Nothing more depressing than being told that such a place has run out of programmes, calling up and being told, no, thank you, we still have loads in the office. Then, please, why don’t you put them out!!!!!??????????
Yesterday evening I went to a great Intelligence Squared event. The motion was “Public schools are a blight on British society“. Two of the speakers for the motion were David Aaronovitch and Francis Wheen in top form and their performance was an excellent omen for their conversation on David’s book, Voodoo Histories, at JBW. I’m sure this will be a great session.
The IQ2 audience was very public school yesterday evening and you could see at once that our friends did not have a chance to win the debate (although they did really well and swayed quite a few undecided voters). There I was distributing our JBW programmes. Funny how people can looked wary of receiving a simple booklet. So I had a big smile on and would say “it’s just a book festival”. As usual, quite a few people returned it to me when seeing the Jewish on the cover, not even bothering to open it. This makes me slightly paranoid and I start saying “you don’t have to be Jewish to attend!” to which a charming gentleman, who had returned the programme to me, exclaimed “but I am Jewish and have already got one!”. Very reassuring! This said, I did not go round the room at the end of the talk to see how many programmes had been left lying on the floor. Better not…
Some of the people there yesterday distinctly belonged to the world Anthony Julius described in the excerpt from his long-awaited book, Trials of the Diaspora, recently published in the Sunday Times. There definitely is a very upper class form of antisemitism but I have to say that as a Frenchwoman, I experienced the same feeling of deep contempt towards me and my country and I would tend to believe they despise anyone who does not belong to their world. It’s just expressed in the most chilling and underhand way.
Not surprisingly, Anthony Julius’ session is our bestselling one at the moment, closely followed by the opening night, A Fine Romance on Jewish songwriters, the discussion between the Chief Rabbi and Susan Neiman and the closing talk on Israel and J-Street. It will be interesting to see which of these five sells out first.
Which takes me back to my usual question of how Jewish should Jewish Book Week be. Judging from our audience preferences, possibly even more Jewish than it is at the moment. But then, wouldn’t it be too inward-looking? Leading to my own frequently asked question of how to get a non-Jewish audience to come to JBW. Why is it that non French people will easily go to the Institut francais but non-Jews fear being “alienated” at JBW? Why the lack of curiosity or distrust? Would you (you being my, I suppose, Jewish reader) go to Christian Book Week (if it existed)? I was delighted to be invited to the Muslim Writers Awards and really enjoyed the experience.
Last but not least, we are very proud of our first pre-JBW podcast made by Becky Jacobs, Gerald Jacobs’ (distinguished literary editor of the JC) talented daughter. Here it is. Listen to it, let us know what you think and feel free to circulate widely!