Edinburgh in August is an extravagance of festivals. Where Montreal takes a serial approach to its festival season, the Scottish capital crowds 10 different festivals into a single three-week period.
I'm here, as usual, scouting at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (Aug. 15-31), which, though not the first, is likely both the biggest (750 writers this year) and the best English-language literary festival in the world.
It's also the airiest, with events taking place in tents set up in Charlotte Square Gardens in Edinburgh's elegant New Town. To these performance spaces are added other tents for the bookshop, the children's bookshop, the "imagination lab," the legendary authors' yurt, and the press pod. The effect is staggering and the experience meteorologically variable, as spring rains and summer sun vie daily with autumnal temperatures and winds strong enough to send umbrellas flying across the grass.
Events are packed -- ticket sales were up 25 per cent before the festival even started -- and one of the best so far has featured Barcelona novelist Carlos Ruiz Zafón, the exuberantly literary author of The Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game. These are the first two parts of a quartet of interrelated novels so successful he is being pressured to sell screen rights. A one-time scriptwriter and lifelong movie lover, he resists this. His novels are so literary he thinks it would be "wrong" to turn them into a film.
Zafón (pictured above) is an intriguing figure, the bestselling Spanish writer ever (Cervantes included), and he speaks remarkably fluent and colloquial English. It's hard to resist a man who invented the Cemetery of Forgotten Books and who writes, "Every book has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it... When a library disappears, or a bookshop closes down, when a book is consigned to oblivion, those of us who know this place, its guardians, make sure that it gets here" (translated by Julia Graves; Phoenix, 2004).
And hard to top an appearance by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, except that a stunning reading by Carol Ann Duffy managed to do just that.
More on the British poet laureate in my next post.