Happy Birthday to Us! Books@One, in true style, celebrated our first birthday with an amazingly successful literary festival.
For a little bookstore hugging the West Coast of Ireland, in a small town called Louisburgh, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, we pack one hell of a punch.
Over four days, literary names in fiction, poetry, children’s literature, biography and current affairs have entertained, enthralled and debated their way through a range of bookish topics.
The book is not dead. Long live the book!
The amount of people who came to Books@One Festival is testament to the place that literature, books and community hold in our lives. Books in isolation, literature in isolation loses some of its impact but when you bring people together to listen to stories, to debate the merits of one book over another, then the written word takes on more meaning, another level of importance.
This was evident during the main event of the festival, where seating was completely full and standing room was at a minimum with over one hundred and sixty people attending. Who would have thought that words on a page could garner such passion and spirit in people?
Elizabeth Reapy and Mike McCormack came to talk of their one-year celebration for their books on the Saturday night. How does one prepare for such a task, interviewing two award winning writers, one recently long-listed for the prestigious Man Booker prize?
I read both of their books, Red Dirt and Solar Bones again. I then typed in their names into the Google search engine and waited. Articles and reviews numbering hundreds flooded the screen. Words such as ‘Apocalyptic’, ‘Mesmerising’, ‘Astounding’.
Yes, these books are all of these things and more but the words seemed to float in isolation. In the not too distant future I was to come face to face with these literary elite, in front of an audience of devoted fans.
So, I turned off the computer.
I didn’t want to accrue other people’s questions. I didn’t want the literati to colour my perception of two very enjoyable texts. So I abandoned Google and chose to immerse myself in the literature. I read their stories all over again, with fresh eyes.
There was a full house on Saturday night and Mike McCormack and Elizabeth Reapy, being two of our own from County Mayo, one from the very town of Louisburgh itself, lent an air of relaxed familiarity to the proceedings.
Mike McCormack is an award-winning novelist and short story writer. His previous work includes Getting it in the Head, Crowe’s Requiem, Notes from a Coma – shortlisted for the Irish Book of the Year Award – and Forensic Songs.
Of course, Solar Bones, set in the town of Louisburgh itself has been a runaway success. Published by Tramp Press, it has been long listed for many awards.
Elizabeth Reapy’s debut novel Red Dirt took the reading world by storm last year, winning the Newcomer of the Year category in the 2016 Irish Book Awards. She was also shortlisted for the 2017 Kate O’Brien Award. Elizabeth is a Mayo woman, from Claremorris, and is one of an impressive cohort of successful new young Irish female writers.
The audience participated with gusto and there were plenty of interesting questions from the floor.
It didn’t seem like hard work at all, if anything it felt like over one hundred people were crammed into the front room of someone’s house, having a céilí, chatting about books and literature and the love of both. The night was amazing; both writers humbled by the gathered crowd and the small act of someone buying their books.
And that is what Books@One is all about, the small acts that surround book buying and how it can have a butterfly effect throughout the world.
We buy a book and it supports the career of a creative. We buy a book and in the bookstore we get to have a chat to tourists visiting from Canada. We buy a book and a man who is cycling around the world regales his tales of adventure and flat tyres while sipping on good coffee. We buy a book and we contribute to art and writing workshops for a group of school kids. We buy a book as a gift and give the lifelong prize of reading, of story, of imagination to the world. We buy a book that could turn out to be the next Man Booker Prize winning novel. We buy a book in a small bookstore on the edge of the Atlantic, in a little town called Louisburgh.
I wonder, do Mike and Elizabeth remember their first book store, the buying of their first book. I know I will remember the night of Books@One’s first birthday celebrations in Louisburgh.
But now, planning meeting for Books@One Festival 2018. Watch this space.