Best of 2011: Books & Writing
The roll call of global literary luminaries gracing the Wheeler Centre this year was nothing less than astonishing. Let’s revisit some of the highlights of our international guests.
In March, Annie Proulx spoke about designing a “bibliothèque” in her new home, built on a property where she’s discovered obsidian fragments from Yellowstone and 2700-year-old charcoal beneath a mere inch of topsoil. Andrew O'Hagan discussed the role of the novelist against the dangerous lure of newspaper controversy and a culture that threatens to “understand less and condemn more”.
Yannick Haenel told one of the most arresting stories we’ve ever heard at the Gala Night of Storytelling (here’s the translation), and in a separate event described the challenges of writing his partly fictionalised account of a little-known chapter of World War 2 history and of the importance of bearing witness. Murong Xuecun discussed his sometimes controversial characters and explored the challenges that face an ‘independent’ writer in modern China.
In April, Jeffrey Archer talked about his first love - politics - and his respect for Margaret Thatcher, whom he described as one of three women who have profoundly affected and influenced him. Meg Rosoff confessed that she’s interested in characters rather than plots, and shared the advice she’s been given about writing novels. David Mitchell told us about his fear of being boring (not a chance). Michael Cunningham complimented Australians on our balance between “a kind of gravitas and a good joke … that’s hard to find in a lot of places”. Thank you.
Michael Connelly told us about the important editorial input of his mother, a fan of crime fiction who first introduced her son to the genre, and how she felt about his modern style of mystery writing which allows for more unanswered questions. Sir Terry Pratchett spoke on his thoughts on death and religion. TJ Clark was eloquent on the topics of art, poetry, death, truth and love. Anita Shreve described the Oprah phenomenon with Jane Sullivan.
Jonathan Safran Foer told us he had “no conception” of himself as a writer: “To me, it sounded like saying, ‘I’m a lover’. It didn’t seem like something one should say.” Finally, one of our favourite guests, Jon Ronson, told us he suspects he suffers from about a dozen mental disorders and concluded that anxiety disorders are indicative of moral goodness. Whether he succeeded in his aim “to try and make wet doubt seem attractive” is for you to decide.