When people find out that I’m a librarian they often respond “Oh, I love books”, mostly because I think they don’t know what else to say. The “I love books” people drive me nuts, and I usually respond with a snarky”I don’t like books at all” or “I don’t read fiction.” That usually shuts them up quickly. But I do love books, and I love writers. I think our society desperately needs writers and artists.
Last night after drinking a lemony cold and flu drink for dinner I dragged my sorry self to the Robson Square Reading Series event (that BCLA cosponsored) with Karen Connelly and Deborah Campbell. They were amazing.
Before her reading Deborah Campbell talked about how Freedom to Read week is also freedom to write week. She said that it’s not just about despotic governments in other countries that censor, but that half of the newspapers in Canada are owned by one family, that is only interested in publishing specific types of stories about the Middle East. Deborah Campbell read from This Heated Place, Iran’s Quiet Revolution (that was published in the Walrus magazine) and something else that I don’t remember. She explained that the political situation in the Middle East was very nuanced and complex and that she sought to describe “how the human narrative fits into the geopolitical context”. She has a feature article coming out in Harper’s magazine in April.
Karen Conolley read from The Lizard Cage, a fictional book that is based on Burma in the late 80s. One of the passages that she read was about Teza, a political prisoner who was in year 7 of a 20 year solitary prison sentence. Contraband items, tucked away in his food parcel, are smuggled into his cell. These contraband items are pen and paper so that he can also write a congratulatory letter to the leader of the opposition party Aung San Suu Kyi who was released from house arrest. Conolley writes:
Who can tell what a single word, the right one, might do? He considers an entire letter. How far will it travel, whom will it find, what will it carry or leave behind in its wake? Whatever he writes will mean You have not silenced me. Despite all your power, you are not all-powerful. Men have often reduced his voice to gasps and weeping. They have crushed the power to speak from his body, from many bodies. But words written down outlive the vulnerability of the flesh. (The Lizard Cage, p. 137-8)
Teza ends up ripping the letter up and eating the pieces. He then tries to get rid of the pen by throwing it through an air vent, as he can hear the footsteps of the prison guards coming down the hall to his cell. I’m really looking forward to reading this book.
Both Deborah Campbell and Karen Connelly made me think about many of the freedoms that I take for granted. Happy Freedom to Read Week.