I read at ten international festivals in 2010, in Sydney, Edinburgh, the south of France, Paris, the Netherlands, Cork and Kilkenny in Ireland, Oxford and Charleston in England, etc., and I loved every minute. Crowds of book-lovers, great venues, music, and I met a lot of great and funny writers. (We tend not to have this kind of festival in the U.S., but Wordstock
in Portland is a wonderful exception. I loved Wordstock and met a bunch of writers there, too.)
The highpoint of the festivals, though, was meeting Colm Tóibín, first in Sydney and then in Ireland. I thought I'd write about him in my first blog here because he's the kind of writer and person I'd like to be.
I first met Colm through his writing. I thought Brooklyn was a terrific and heartbreaking novel. I picked it for the Observer's best books list a year ago in the UK because it reminded me that the most ambitious landscape, finally, is the human heart. I tend to like flashier writers and landscape description, stylists such as Cormac McCarthy or Annie Proulx, but Brooklyn hooked me. The main character is so conflicted in the end, with impossible and non-choices, as in the best Greek tragedy. She's lost the old world and the new. Great stuff.
Then I met Colm in Sydney and couldn't believe how approachable and friendly he was. I saw him on a panel and he had the most wonderful sense of humor. He's so brilliant, he no longer has to act smart. He just enjoyed himself on stage and made us all laugh.
The generosity extends off the stage, also. He invited me and my wife to stay at his house in Ireland for a week in August, and we had the best time. We took long walks along the ocean and read books, and I got to read an early review copy of his new story collection, The Empty Family. In that book, he evokes such a powerful sense of longing for place, of wanting to be back in a place that feels like home, and as I read, I was sitting in his home, looking out at the view that he describes in the title story, a view past gently rolling hills to the sea and lighthouse. That was quite a moment, feeling that connected to a story, but I think any reader will feel welcomed by Colm's writing and will be brought close.