Judy Blume

A confession first (as I think Judy* would want, given that all her heroines are confessing everything, all the time): I spent most of this talk just staring at Judy in adoration and so didn’t take as many notes as I usually do.

I was sat in the front row, practically on Judy’s lap** and it seemed only right that I should at least look like I was paying her all the attention she deserves.  But here are my starry eyed memories of what she said:

First: excellent Judy trivia, in case you ever happen to be doing a Judy Blume pub quiz: her mum and Philip Roth’s mum went to high school together.

Second: the good stuff, the books.  She believes there’s far too much hysteria and fear about what children read: books are actually a really safe way to learn about life.  Children know what makes them comfortable and uncomfortable, and if they get to something they don’t understand, they simply read over it.  (I am a case in point about this: does anyone remember that Deenie had a ‘special place?’ I didn’t.  But another young reader decided that her special place would be under her rib cage…)  Or they’ll ask questions.  Or they’ll just put the book down.  Whatever, they can cope with it.

Third: the bad stuff – censorship.  She said that the 70’s were a great time to be writing: they were much freer, there were lots of young readers and publishers were more willing to take a chance.  It wasn’t until Reagan was elected that censorship hit.  At first, Judy thought, well this is America, we don’t ban books, we’re all about freedom of speech.  She was alarmed and even scared to find out how wrong she was: she said it was a very isolating time, since her publishers got scared too.  Interestingly, her most banned book is not Forever, but Deenie because – apparently, in the eyes of people who freak out about this sort of stuff – masturbation is WAY WORSE than sex.

Forever, by the way, was written for her daughter who had been reading too many books where girls had sex and ALL SORTS OF TERRIBLE THINGS HAPPENED TO THEM, and she, not unreasonably asked, ‘couldn’t there be a book with two nice kids where they do it and nobody has to die?’  Forever is about taking responsibility for your own actions, she said, but not about being punished.

Later on, I got to chat to her quite a bit in the signing queue (as I was shamelessly asking her to sign four books because, if I haven’t made this clear yet, I’m sort of a fan) and asked about the Tiger Eyes film.  Did you know there was a Tiger Eyes film?  No?  That’s because it didn’t have a UK release.  But if you go to the Tiger Eyes facebook page and like it, she is hopeful that it might come out over here on DVD.  PLEASE DO IT, DO IT FOR JUDY (and me, because I really want to see it).

Basically, thanks Judy for this talk and for saving every teenage girl I know and just for being SO AWESOME.

*note that we are already on first name terms.

** it is possible that I was first in the queue for this event, in the manner of a teenage girl camping out for Harry Styles (or indeed a Hay Festival goer wanting to see Benedict Cumberbatch).

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Siri Hustvedt: Living, Thinking, Looking

‘I’m not interested in confession for confession’s sake’ said Siri Hustvedt, about her most recent book of essays. It starts with living, she said, as you can’t do much thinking or looking if you aren’t actually living.

Her series of essays, modelled on Montaigne, are an attempt to chase after various ideas and explore different concepts: ‘the essay is a way to explore what you think,’ she said. Hustvedt thinks about everything under the sun with depth and insight that most of us can only dream of. Some of what she thinks about is illness, as a sufferer of chronic migraine and other symptoms, and about the ways in which personalities adapt to and accommodate those challenges. She also has strongly-held views on art and artists – discussed in the ‘looking’ section of the book. And she argues strongly for more interaction between different disciplines: she comes from a background in literature but believes that speaks to philosophy, psychology, neurology…..there’s too much specialisation and not enough conversation, in her view.

She doesn’t like to say ‘I am this, or that’ because she has a sense that we are constantly moving; but neverthess, she is endlessly interesting and certainly worth a read. Rosie Goldsmith, the chair, called this book ‘a personal guide to being human’ and you could do a lot worse than having Siri Hustvedt as your personal guide.