Literary Train Tour: Opening speech
I have been looking forward to this for a long time – although I must admit there have been many sleepless nights in recent weeks.
I cannot imagine a life without books. Ever since I was a child, I have been read to and given the opportunity to enter a world of fantasy. The act of reading, the internal images it creates, the emotions it evokes – has made me a better, wiser and more thoughtful person. But first and foremost, stories have given me a place where I could be me.
For me, books have been a home.
That is why the idea of speaking about what literature has meant to me brought on those sleepless nights. Because by sharing literature, I also share a part of my innermost self. My hope for this literary tour is not just to share my reading pleasure with others, but to have all of you be able share your reading experiences with me – and with many others.
I read all sorts of things. And clearly I read too fast. Sometimes so fast that I don’t pick up on everything. It’s a weakness. But I read. I read on airplanes and in the summertime, and at night when the house is completely quiet. I read in the sun, and in the car on my way to work. I read with my children and I read with friends. And then I talk. About the books – why a certain book became so important then, why he writes the way he does, and how that book became more important than another book or a third one. And when I choose an author and read almost everything he has written, I journey so far inside the book that no one can reach me.
For me, this is the gift of literature: that it transports me both outwards and inwards, that it leads me to reach higher and wider, and that it enables me to gain a better understanding of both myself and others.
When I was young, my mother and I used to go to the library on Saturdays. I still remember what it felt like to walk around among all the stories to pick a few that I could bring home. Going to the counter and having my own library card. I remember the wonderful librarian with her grey hair and warm smile. And I remember all the times we returned books that were overdue.
In Norway we have 750 public libraries spread throughout our country. In other words there are many wonderful women and men lending books with a warm smile to people of all ages every day. Sharing their reading pleasure and knowledge with all of us who live here. Because Norwegians are a reading people. Every day, one in four of us reads part of a book. All over the country there are literature groups and reading circles. There are many people like me who like to talk about the book they’re reading and why that book in particular is so important.
Literature is for everyone. It does not discriminate. There are books for everyone. Not everyone has to read Dostoevsky to find something riveting at the deepest level of the soul. I usually just say I haven’t started on the Russians yet.
Inside the library carriage are some of the books that have meant a great deal to me. Not all of them. That’s because almost as soon as I finish a book I like, I pass it on. I am just so eager for people I love to experience the feeling I had when I read it.
And that’s really why we are here – on a platform beside a train: so that you perhaps will find a book that will mean something important to you.
One of my absolute favourites is a writer named James Salter. He just published his first book in many years and was interviewed by the American literary magazine The Paris Review. In the interview he was asked what makes writing so necessary. He replied:
“Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down. Man was very fortunate to have invented the book. Without it the past would completely vanish, and we would be left with nothing, we would be naked on earth.”
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