Brighton Festival 2015: Andy Miller & Edmund de Waal

This is the penultimate edition of my Brighton Festival write-up. Two very interesting, and every different, gentlemen talking about literature.


Read Y’self Fitter – Andy Miller

Andy Miller is a publisher and writer, his most recently book is The Year of Reading Dangerously (out now in paperback FYI). You can follow him on twitter: @i_am_mill_i_am

This event was based on Andy’s journey to read himself fitter in The Year of Reading Dangerously, he gave us – the audience – steps on how to read our way to happiness. This involved audience participation, which normal I shun, but in this instance was rather enjoyable.

Each audience member was asked to fill in a sheet, which they would then sign, saying which book they had always wanted to read but hadn’t. That big book on the horizon that seemed as though it would take an age to finish. Agnes and I did not fill in a bit of paper, as we were already in the auditorium. This was fortunate for me as I would have put the Histories by Herodotus, which is both pretentious and daunting.

“I would describe myself as a born again reader.”

Read Y’self Fitter is a 10 step programme to help others do as he did in The Year of Reading Dangerously.

Any veracious reader will find these points will not apply to them, but for anyone who enjoys reading sporadically, or avoids certain books, these step by step points are brilliant. Miller delivered them with a playful humour, which took away any dictatorial edge off his method may have had.

Before I go over some of the steps he mentions, note that he disliked One Hundred Years of Solitude with a heated passion. It’s relevant later.

‘We don’t need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin
We don’t need to read what people say we need to read / what is popular. We don’t need to be seen to be reading what other people are reading. I think this is a fair point, there are so many good books we shouldn’t limit ourselves to bestseller lists.

‘We are not as clever as George Elliott.’
“You need to stick with it and accept that some of it will go over your head.”
Miller’s wife’s advice for reading Middlemarch was to read 50 pages and then go and do something else. Having never read Middlemarch I will be taking this advice on board. Classics can be daunting, accepting that you won’t always understand what is happening will allow you to enjoy having read the book – even if the practice of reading it felt difficult.

‘If you start a book (try to) finish it’
I have mixed feelings about this, but since the talk I’ve tried to put it into action. I’ve always been an advocate of saying that if a book doesn’t work for you don’t waste your time on it. But, there have been novels I have got through, not necessarily enjoying them, but loved them once I had finished. My opinion is that it takes half a book to decide if it’s for you, but try to finish if you have the time/energy to do so.

‘Use a library or an Independent bookshop’
“They need your support.”
It’s not always a step I can follow, but where I can I try to support my local bookshop: City Books, Hove.

Miller then gathered all the bits of paper the audience members had filled out, selected a few and read them out. That person then had to stand while we chanted at them: ‘[name] , you will read [book] and will tell Andy Miller who will give you a big tick.’

And then came Sam. Poor, poor, Sam. Who had written, you guessed it, One Hundred Years of Solitude. We had to stand and point for her.

I look forward to what will happen at the end of Miller’s touring. I’d like to see who wrote what, and how many people complete the challenge and let Andy know.

Edmund de Wall

de Waal is a writer and artist, he is known for his white (and more recently black) pots.

Edmund de Waal is a wonderful speaker, I found his talk very moving. Who knew I could like a talk that was ostensibly about pots.

‘I’m here to try and navigate these things I do.’

de Waal puts his pots behind opaque glass – he tells stories  with his art.

The particular journey he took us on with this talk revolved around some Netsuke figurines he had inherited from his uncle. From Paris, to Vienna to Japan – these figures travelled through time to him. He has written about this in his book, The Hare With Amber Eyes: A Hidden Inheritance.

His family history is an interesting one; from opulence to desolation, to now. His family were Jewish, ripped from their status and fortune during the war.

After de Waal’s book was published people wrote to him. With fewer objects to try and link back to lost family from the war. Where all they had were teaspoons or a memory of a voice.

I wish I could say more about this talk, but I was too in the moment to note. In fact, most of my notes are about how I was too involved to note. I recommend going to see him speak if you can.

He said a lot more about his own art, and how he writes and how he merges the two forms. I would love to go see an installation of his.


Two very different talks on personal journeys, do you have your own you might share?

4 thoughts on “Brighton Festival 2015: Andy Miller & Edmund de Waal

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