There is something very cool about attending a London Book Fair event called "In Conversation With Sebastian Faulks", sitting around for 20 minutes as Faulks is 'delayed', then seeing Gordon Brown walk in the door. Faulks used to be a journalist, and he set a tone that allowed for Brown to comment on everything from the importance of literature to Iraq to his own writing.
Brown began by discussing how much he missed reading after a rugby injury impeded his sight for some of his childhood. He mentioned how writers such as Salinger and Kingsley Amis were key to him 'coming alive' as an adolescent, and how even now he tries to find time to dip in and out of novels as often as nonfiction. He then discussed his forthcoming book, which deals with the concept of courage and profiles numerous people he considers courageous. He is keen to understand the reasoning behind certain decisions, and feels that once we understand the reasoning, we can feel truly inspired.
They discussed the importance of cultural exchange to the political, intellectual and social climates, and, as the London Book Fair is concentrating on the Arab world and its literature, had much to say about the impact of culture, especially literature, on the relationship and understanding of diversity. Brown discussed freedom of movement and the Internet as the pinnacles of what will shape 21st century politics. The more people can communicate, can band together via text message to protest, can blog or write, the more likely the people will begin to shape politics on a more grassroots level.
Brown also touched on the influence of the internet and computers on creativity, how creativity is changing. Reading is not limited to books now, and the way we read has changed. He proposed that education continue to be open to new media and adjust to it as it becomes more prevalent. He talked about putting books into the homes of lower-income kids before the age of 5, then again at 11, to encourage reading.
Faulks cheekily asked about the contradiction between Brown's writing about his admiration of WWII leaders, soldiers in Afghanistan, Churchill and his decisions regarding the Iraq war. Brown gave a canned response to this, which was frustrating as he could have taken this opportunity to humanize the war and to perhaps extend an olive branch of admiration for the soldiers currently serving. Faulks is obviously against the war, and a few harsh words were begun and then quickly snuffed as they moved on to questions from the audience.
I sat there, a chick from Kansas amid a room full of publishing-types who are at the Fair for a reason, watching one of the world's major leaders (and an author himself) discuss books and education. Brown's appearance was a surprise to everyone in the room, but what I found more surprising was Brown's knowledge of and nods to the importance of publishing as an industry and the impact that writing and other creative outlets has on the general public and, in some ways, on political decisions. It is difficult to imagine Bush Junior knowing anything about contemporary fiction, nonfiction, and its content, let alone its potential impact. Witnessing the thoughtful commentary of a major world leader saddened me, as America deserves better.
And yes, Brown did say the above...