There is something amazing about books.
It's something that we may not think about each time we crack open a book, or turn those e-readers on, but the power of words is incredible.
They can start conversations; they can start wars.
Books can bring people together, and tear people apart.
This past week in Burma, a revolution took place - a Literary Festival.
Burma has a dark history, but we won't go into that here. It is, however, important to note that Burma isn't known for independence, especially freedom of speech. Most citizens have never been exposed to any books other than censored classics approved by the government. Political prisoners are by the dozen and many include poets, authors, and artists. Famous political prisoner and Nobel laureate and author, Aung San Suu Kyi, was the patron of the festival. Known for her outspoken opposition of the Burmese government and sentenced house arrest for the last 20 years, Aung said of the importance of reading, "[Reading] gives you a chance to understand how other people think, and what kind of experiences other people have been through," she said. "And it also helps you to cope with your own life."
The festival, no doubt, was a giant step in Burma's attempt towards freedom of her people. Authors from all over the world came together to give workshops and just discuss the written word. What an amazing feat, in a nation that has been blemished with wars and restricting her people to even the smallest of freedoms - books. It seems indeed that the word is mightier than the sword.
What can we learn from the extraordinary people of Burma? For one thing, if you're a writer, you should feel extremely fortunate to have the freedom to write whatever you want, whenever you want. If you're a reader, feel fortunate that you can read whatever you want whenever you want. But I think we can learn something else. With the invention of social media, text messaging, even email, we've lost something: Conversation.
Obviously we all converse, and we have deep meaningful discussions, but where did the days go when people gathered to discuss literature? Unless you're a sophomore in high school, or a current English major, you probably don't participate in a group of open literature discussion. I would love to sit around, sipping on tea and eating tarts, and just discussing today's literature (or lack thereof). And attending a three-day literary festival??? Wow! That would be awesome!
What are your thoughts on social media's impact on literary discussion? Do you agree with me, or do you think that today's innovative technology allows for more discussion? You may point out that through this blog, we've engaged in a sort of conversation around literature, and you'd be correct. But I often think of Lord Byron's "get togethers" where he'd bring writers to his villa and they'd discuss books and even have writing contests (at which Frankenstein was born), and I think about how I should do something like that! And why not? Maybe we can all throw our own mini literary festivals! (If you do throw one, you have to let us know!)
Is there a current bestseller you'd like to discuss? How about the influx of books being turned into movies? There are discussions to be had! Go out there and have them! Spread the word!
And to all you writers out there, take the advice of 17 year old Aung Zin, the winner of the Burmese Literary Festival Contest, who said, "Don't be afraid. Just write."
Happy Reading and Writing!