Living Books: More than a sheaf of pages

by Philip Holyman, one of the ‘living books’ performing in Time Has Fallen Asleep In The Afternoon Sunshine

Preview for Time has fallen asleep in the afternoon sunshine, Fierce Festival, March-April 2012, Birmingham.

More Than A Sheaf Of Papers
I saw Francois Truffaut’s film version of Fahrenheit 451 long before I ever read Ray Bradbury’s novel. In the context of this book-championing project, that’s probably something to be shamefaced about. Or maybe not. Bradbury demonstrates that a book is more than a text written on a sheaf of pages. A book is ideas and feelings articulated in a carefully crafted sequence of words. And Bradbury’s Book People commit their books to their memories so that those ideas and feelings survive even after the paper they are printed on has been incinerated.

This far into THFAITAS, I see a parallel there. Day by day, our books of paper and ink are being steadily transformed into books of flesh and blood. The pages of sentences and paragraphs and chapters are now becoming embedded in our brains and our voices and our memories. When a reader sits down with us, they genuinely will be reading us as much as they are reading the text we have learned.

Their unique experience of the book is formed by the precise detail of how we remember our text during that particular session. There will be moments when whole stretches will pour out as if the words had a life of their own. But there will inevitably be moments when we stumble or falter — when we forget a word or a line and there is a brief or a not-so-brief pause as we try to pick up the thread again. These moments are typographic errors in the texts we are busy imprinting in our heads. But unlike a printed page, we have the power to correct ourselves with a smile.

During our rehearsals, I’ve had the privilege to read and to be read by both Mette and Kristien, and in both directions, it’s an experience like nothing else I can describe. The readings took place on early evenings in the cavernous foyer of Symphony Hall, surrounded by a constant stream of human traffic, on their way to concerts or on their way home from work. And each time, for half an hour, two people shared something quite simple, a story recounted by one to the other, a little island of calm and concentration in the midst of a very public space in the centre of a massive city.

Reader and book make and break eye contact, adjusting positions every now and then to get more comfortable, and very gently, the story unfolds. So absorbing is this experience that it has a curiously magnetic effect on people around. They pause their own conversations to gauge what is being said by the book to the reader; they shift their chairs to spy and eavesdrop on the person who doesn’t stop talking and the one who does not talk at all. The urge to listen is hard to resist. On behalf of all eight books who form part of Birmingham’s THFAITAS library, I hope you’ll surrender to that urge. Come and read us. Don’t leave us on our shelves.

Preview published by the Rep/ Birmingham, March 2012