27th Literary Sojourn reminds us why we read
“Why do you read?”
It’s a question that has many answers. Some of us read to lose ourselves in a reality different than our own. Others read to find themselves in the depths of someone else’s words. We even read to learn about people different than ourselves with experiences we have never had to live or even imagine.
For 27 years, the Literary Sojourn Festival of Authors, presented by Bud Werner Memorial Library, has brought in hundreds of authors to share their stories and remind everyone why they love the books these authors and others have written. This idea felt ever present at this year’s festival.
Having only lived in Steamboat Springs a year and a half, I had never heard of Literary Sojourn or anything like it. As someone who loves books of all kinds and has had to relocate with her massive collection several times, this type of event is something that speaks to me in a way no ski slope or mountain trail could. I remember the devastation of not being able to grab a ticket for last year’s festival after learning about it from co-workers. This year, however, I bought a ticket, and, as luck would have it, became the news team member selected to cover it.
Of all the authors present, I only knew two, but it didn’t matter. I was going to get to sit in a room with six, high-profile authors who made a living doing something I had always dreamed of doing, and five of them were going to share how.
When Andrew Sean Greer, the author of Pulitzer Prize winning novel, “Less,” and master of ceremonies, ended his opening remarks with a joke — “What is the love of books but white wine?” — I laughed along with everyone else in the room. Everyone could relate to being in that type of book club or, in my case, reading about one.
When Rebecca Makkai stepped up to discuss her book “The Great Believers,” I was immersed into the research she had done and the story of how her book had come together.
“The Great Believers” is about the AIDS epidemic in Chicago in the 1980s, and Makkai had to go to great lengths to find information for her book. Throughout her speech, I felt transported with her to all those hours spent in the library reading old periodicals and meeting with survivors and those who had lost loved ones. And it reminded me of one of the many reason I read — to learn.
The reasons to read didn’t end there.
Madeline Miller, The New York Times-bestselling author of “Circe,” shared her childhood love of classics like “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and how that love — and questions about certain characters regulated to the background — was the basis for her novel.
“It’s okay to question the classics,” she told the audience. “They’re not perfect. … It doesn’t mean we don’t love them. In fact, I would argue, it shows how much we love them that we question them.”
To find a new twist on a beloved classic, this is why we read.
After Miller, John Burnham Schwartz shared the story of Svetlana Alliluyeva, Joseph Stalin’s only daughter, and how his own family’s history intersected with hers. His book, “The Red Daughter,” based on that history, explores her tortured past and details a woman looking for her own sense of self — just like many readers when they crack open a book to dive into the pages.
To find a sense of self, this is why we read.
Schwartz was followed by Jennifer Clement. Clement is known for her novels “Prayers for the Stolen” and “Gun Love,” her newest. I had heard of Clement but had never actually picked up any of her books. However, after listening to her discuss her books, I will pick up every single one she writes from now on.
“Prayers for the Stolen” focuses on young girls in Mexico attempting to hide from or escape the drug cartels. The stories she shared of coming by the details for her book brought me to tears. It’s something a very sheltered young woman, as I am, could never imagine having to experience.
To understand another’s struggle and empathize, this is why we read.
Esi Edugyan was the final author to speak. Her newest novel “Washington Black” is a unique piece of art filled with hot air balloons and far flung travels, but it is also a story about one of the darkest times in human history — slavery. Edugyan was the author who spoke most about why we read novels. She described it as an act of empathy to pick up a book about someone different from yourself and read their thoughts and feelings and lose yourself, for just a moment, in the life of another. It was a beautiful sentiment and one I felt summed up the whole festival.
Everyone has their own reason for reading, but we all read the books we read because we love them, the characters they hold and the passion the authors’ pens, or keyboards, placed within their pages. We’re lucky to live in a town with an event that reminds us of this annually. I know I’ll be going again next year to remind myself why I read.
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