Beginnings

This, the fourth year that Around the World in 10 Books has featured in the Bath Literature Festival, will see a slightly different event to its predecessors. The ‘EU Special’ – all Judith’s idea, Scott likes to point out, just in case it doesn’t go down well – focuses on books from European countries. Following the Brexit vote and  seeing as we’re about to scarper, it is just as good a time as any.

Scott reassures me that the event won’t be that much different from previous years. The only small change is that this time there is a different map: the world view that some of the audience might remember as the backdrop to other events has been replaced with one of Europe. And, apparently, that did mean Scott had to take a little more time trying to fit all the book covers onto the screen.

How did Around the World in 10 Books begin?

The idea came about just over four years ago, when Viv Groskop was organising the Bath Festival. She’d seen a post on Scott’s blog (which doesn’t exist anymore, unfortunately) about a company called Open Letter Press – an American publishing house that only does fiction in translation (and, coincidently, published one of the books Scott recommended at this years’ event, but more on that later). They had an opening deal where you could buy the first 25 books they’d published for a special price, and Scott had written a blog post about how he had treated himself to the offer.

Viv got in touch with him, and asked that he come to the festival to do something about books in translation at the festival.

That’s when he came up with the idea of ‘Around the World in 10 Books’.

The question was: can you do an event where no-one on stage is particularly well-known, and where no-one on stage is trying to sell their own book (because you know what festivals are like) and still make it entertaining? Can you have some people – who are not trying to flog you anything – just sat chatting about books? Would that work?

Scott and the festivals team tried to find a format where that made sense. And as he knew that people are always after recommendations, and that books in translation are amongst the lesser read in bookshops, the two came together to form ‘Around the World in 10 Books’. Combined with a projection of a world map where the books could appear on their original location, Scott could take the audience on a round-the-world trip.

I’ve done the event with a few different people over the last three years. Last year, Judith said that though she’s always been involved with different things, she’d actually never done an event at the festival. She’s always been too busy looking after people, and you know, being nice to famous people. So she said to me that if we could arrange it for nearer the end of the festival, she’d be able to come. So that’s what we did, and we had a great time.

This idea of ‘armchair traveling’ – that you can travel the world with a cup of tea, in your front room, with a good book, is exactly what Judith and Scott try to get across. By just sitting down and spending five minutes on each book, saying what it’s about and asking each other a few questions, they can give the audience a wide range of new books to explore. They might also ask the audience if they’ve read the book, what they thought, or if there are any other books from that country worth considering. And then an hour goes by.

It’s such a simple concept, but it seems to go down really well. Last year we even got moved to a bigger room. It was bonkers! I think a lot of people come back each year, and I’m pretty sure everyone leaves with at least one or two book recommendations. They do have the books on sale, but we’re not actively pushing them. If you decide to buy the books then that’s fantastic, but if you don’t, no big deal.

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