The top selling adult books in the Hay Festival bookshop yesterday were…
1. Henry Marsh – Do No Harm
2. David and Hilary Crystal – Wordsmiths and Warriors
3. Roman Krznaric – Empathy
4. Francesca Martinez – What the **** is Normal?
5. Andrew Hussey – The French Intifada
(Courtesy of the official Hay Festival Facebook page)
Who is surprised this is an ‘unofficial’ product?
Chris and Alex looking a tiny bit like they are going to a funeral but actually just practicing for the One Show
If Jay Gatsby was alive today, he would be a Russian mobster with artistic leanings, Sarah Churchwell said at the end of this thoroughly entertaining lecture on the meaning and myth of the American dream. The dream itself is not, as we may have imagined, Washington’s dream, Jefferson’s dream or even Lincoln’s dream. In fact, it is coined at the beginning of the Great Depression as a way to explore the corruption of a society which had collapsed. The ‘American dream’ was invented to discuss American failures: to acknowledge the moral poverty and spiritual bankruptcy of the 1920’s. But the term was quickly ‘hollowed out’ and soon reduced to simple striving for better material prospects.
As Churchwell says, ‘if a novel is an American classic, it must comment meaningfully on the American dream’ and the novel which is thought to most epitomise that dream is Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby. Churchwell’s own most recent book, Careless People, is a reflection on Gatsby, and she suggested today that popular understanding of Gatsby is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the work. Gatsby is a ‘lament’ for greed and acquisition not a ‘license’ for it, while the perception that Nick is a failure because he gives up on the dream ignores the fact that the dream itself is an illusion and a lie. It’s founded on greed and acquisition and Nick is right to be disgusted by it.
The parallels between the ’29 and the ’08 crash were brought out strongly today, though as Churchwell said ‘they had a crash and tried to change it; we had a crash and said let’s try the same thing again.’ Or, to take it another way, the ideals and aspirations of the dream are good, the problems are with the people who dream it.
At the end, there was some wondering what a ‘Welsh Dream’ might look like: any ideas?
The linguists have teamed up to write a geographical journey of the English Language around Great Britain. Entertaining as always, they narrated their way through extracts of their latest book, Wordsmiths and Warriors. David identifies how, if you were to draw a circle around any location in England, you will discover some surprising things about the history of our language. From the very beginnings when the Danes invaded England and were defeated by King Alfred, to an actual memorial to dialect writers in Rochdale, they have uncovered a wealth of information about the history of the English Language.