SINGAPORE - In a material world where productivity is king and reality shows rule, the sheer joy of reading a good book still prevails - this November, 190 authors from around the world will come to Singapore to tell you why.
The evolution of the written word, its relevance and future forms the backdrop of the 16th Singapore Writers Festival - still going strong despite declining Literature class enrolment rates and the perception that people only read Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey.
Last year saw a high of 16,200 visits to the festival's free and paid events, and organisers are hoping to meet that figure or raise it with its 10-day programme (from Nov 1 to Nov 10) and 200-plus events scattered around the Bras Basah-Bugis district.
This year's official theme is Utopia/Dystopia, but the festival will tackle everything from the preservation of cultural writing and the art of writing lyrics right up to the how-to's of creating superhero characters.
Meanwhile, the never-ending search for the meaning of literature continues with various discussion panels pondering motions such as Can Literature Do Good? and All Art Is Quite Useless.
"Though we often take it for granted, literature is one of the basic forms of human expression... It captures what makes us human - our past, our relationships with each other, our anxieties and our hopes," says festival director Paul Tan.
For 35-year-old local artist/writer Heman Chong, a panellist on All Art Is Quite Useless - art and literature help him through his daily life.
"Art allows us a space where we need not only think about the world in a way that is prescribed to us, but to discover alternative methods in our encounters with objects, people and situations," he explains.
In turn, local novelist Ovidia Yu, who will be in two different panels, sees literature as a means to enrich her life.
"It's a window, magnifying glass and mirror. You can get along fine without it, but a life without literature is a much more shallow, surface experience. Not only do you not get to look into the rest of the world in detail, you don't get to examine yourself in detail either," she says.
But if watching authors expound on high-minded issues confounds you, there are other ways to engage. Highlights include film screenings, a literary walk around central Singapore with writer and guide Rosemary Lim, as well as informal meals with the festival's star attractions, such as philosopher AC Grayling, poet Carol Ann Duffy, crime novelist Peter James and Icelandic writer-lyricist Sjón.
The festival will wind down with a debate between two teams of three authors each. They will tackle the motion This House Computes That Singaporeans Are Illiterate Robots, a topic inspired by the declining numbers of local students taking O Level Literature.
Mr Tan says: "While there are challenges ahead - shortened attention spans and book retailers going bust, to name two - there are also many opportunities and positive signs. At the end of the day, people will always want to be engrossed by a story, even if the reading may be on a digital device.
"We appreciate how literature opens the mind, takes us to new vistas and invites us to ask tough questions."
The Singapore Writers Festival runs from Nov 1 to Nov 10 at various timings and locations. Most events are accessible with a festival pass, which costs $15. Meals with key authors cost from $60 to $80. Other events are individually priced. Early bird sales end on Oct 2. Log on to www.singaporewritersfestival.com for more information.
Nordic writing: Take a peek into the world of Nordic writing through panel discussions by four leading Nordic authors. Poet Aase Berg will team up with lyricist Sjón to talk about "Nordic Poetry", while thriller novelists Roy Jacobsen and Christian Jungersen will take on the topic "Nordic Noir". All four will also come together to discuss an introduction to Nordic literature in "Nordic Lights".
Literary females: What does it mean to be a woman in the literary world? Is there a difference in the way you write, or the way you are written about? Join authors like Ovidia Yu, Ameena Hussein and Khadijah Hashim as they exchange their views in "Woman Enough?", "Asian Women Write Back!" and "Between Women", among others.
Fringe - Fairy Tales: If you have a fascination with fairy tales, then look out for authors Catherine Breillat, Terri Windling and Karsono H Saputra at this year's Fringe Festival. As panellists, they will discuss fairy tale topics such as "Blood, Gore and Violence: The Dark Side of Fairy tales", and "Reinvention and Adaptation: Tales for the Modern Age".
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