First, by any criteria the event was a success. The weather was gorgeous –warm, sunny and still, and over the four days, 239 patrons participated in events. The RPL wanted to celebrate our community’s love of reading and writing, and the enthusiastic involvement of the participants made it clear that the summit had reached its goal. My event was the last one, and when it was over, one writer/reader said that what she loved about the Summit was that there was something there for everyone and that she had learned something different and valuable from every session.
I attended all the events and I’d read all the books our presenters were going to talk about. I, too, learned something different and valuable from every session, but I have a few memories that I’d like to share.
Thursday night, Dr. Jim Daschuk (who used to toss a Frisbee with our son, Nathaniel) discussed his critically acclaimed book, Clearing the Plains. The subject of Dr. Daschuk’s disseration was the decimation of the Aboriginal people when the prairies were settled, and his reading was both sobering and enlightening. I was very pleased to see that there were a number of First Nations people in the audience. They brought questions and insights to the discussion and Dr. Daschuk’s discussion was enriched by their presence.
Friday night Yann Martel discussed his book What is Stephen Harper Reading, and his talk and the response it engendered was wide-ranging and brain-stretching. Martel’s theory that you can tell a great deal about a person by what that person does (or does not) read is a provocative one, and when the theory is applied to the leaders who decide what we as a nation, a province or a city will be, it can be both provocative and more than a little frightening. Again, audience participation was lively and we all had a chance afterwards to have a drink, enjoy some of the excellent appetizers and talk to Yann Martel, a man who is as approachable as he is thoughtful.
Our first Saturday morning session was led by Dianne Warren, my around-the-corner neighbour and the winner of the 2010 Governor-General’s award for fiction for her novel Cool Water—somehow I suspect she mind find the GG a tad more thrilling than the proximity to me. Dianne’s novel is a gentle, absorbing and humane novel about how contemporary life in Juliet Saskatchewan feels to some of its (barely over 1,000) residents.
It’s a lovely book, and Dianne was open about sharing some of the sources behind this extraordinary novel. Among other influences, Dianne cited her father’s collection of Zane Grey novels and her father’s treasured recording of the Sons of the Pioneers’ Cool Water, a classic about his man and his mule. Dianne’s lesson about how writers spin many strands into story was one of the most sensible explanations of the relationship between sources and the creative process that I’ve heard.
Alice Kuipers made an indelible impression on us all as she sat cross-legged on the table, wearing the most beautiful pair of hand-tooled western boots I’ve ever seen, talking about her determination to become a writer despite a daunting onslaught of rejections. Her account of how she finally found the literary form that best suited what she wanted to say was riveting. April 5th (the day Ali spoke) was my grand-daughter, Madeleine’s 16th birthday and Alice wrote a lovely whimsical inscription on the copy of 40 Things I Want to Tell you that I’d bought for Madeleine (having first read and enjoyed it myself, of course.) Ali’s partner Yann Martel brought their three very young children to the reading to see their mother in action. All are under the age of five, blonde, handsome and very well behaved. It was good for us all to see two very successful partners balancing work and family.
Our son Nathaniel came with us to hear Yann Martel talk about his novel, Beatrice and Virgil. Nat is a great fan of Life of Pi, but he hadn’t read Beatrice and Virgil. As Yann talked about the difficulties of writing about the holocaust from a fresh perspective, the audience was rapt. Nat had taken a class in the literature of the holocaust, so during the Q and A, he and Yann had a lively interchange about the subject at hand, during which Nathaniel mentioned a book about the holocaust that had flown beneath Yann’s radar. That evening Nat and Yann had a very nice email exchange. You can imagine how pleased Nat was that Yann Martel took the time to write. I’ve already ordered Beatrice and Virgil for our younger son.
On Sunday, Annette Bower talked about writing her romance novel Woman of Substance, a book that in addition to packing a very nice narrative punch explores the question of how body image affects how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. To support her Masters thesis that society treats large women treated differently because of their weight, the protagonist, Robbie Smith assumes the disguise of a very large woman. Annette examined studies that had been done about body image and about the role advertising plays in making women believe that to be happy they must conform to a certain ideal body weight. As a bonus, Annette took us inside the world of publishing romance novels. In all, it was a fascinating hour, and a very well-attended one.
My presentation on the mystery was the last. I read from my 15th Joanne Kilbourn novel, 12 Rose Street that will be published next year. Among other subjects the novel deals with betrayal and forgiveness, and the discussion after the reading was thoughtful and often, very moving.
Warren James says that next year’s Readers’ Summit will be even bigger and better than the 2014 event. I can see the 2015 Summit being bigger but thanks to the writers and readers who participated in this year’s summit the bar for success has been set very high.