Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Art of Curiosity #WBN2014

This evening I walked down to the Southbank Centre after work to attend 'The Art of Curiosity', an event in association with the Wellcome Book Prize. The Southbank Centre had a number of events on tonight for World Book Night and, although I couldn't get a ticket to 'Letters Live' which I really wanted to see, this event turned out to be a brilliantly bookish way to spend my World Book Night. 

'The Art of Curiosity' consisted of the judges of the Wellcome Book Prize - Andrew Motion, Lisa Appignanesi, James Runcie, Hadley Freeman and Michael Mosley - discussing curiosity and what it means to be curious in relation to the books on the shortlist. The shortlist by the way, is a juicy one. For the unacquainted, the Wellcome Book Prize is designed to celebrate the topics of health and medicine in literature (non-fiction and fiction). The tagline for the award is 'books for the incurably curious', which just says it all really. I came across this prize through Centenary News because (yes, you guessed it), there is a WW1 book on the list. Looking past the obvious war-related pick for me, the entire shortlist piqued my interest and, I should say, my curiosity. 

The two books pictured above - Inconvenient People by Sarah Wise and Wounded by Emily Mayhew - formed part of the discussion this evening and are the two I own from the shortlist (I did not buy one of them immediately upon leaving the auditorium...). The minute Hadley Freeman mentioned Wilkie Collins as she talked about Inconvient People, I knew I was a goner and the book would have to bought. To be fair, it has actually been in the notes on my phone since October 19th last year (I checked), so it's only right I finally bought it. All the judges were impressed by Wise's writing and how 'fun' she managed to make such a nasty subject to read. Wounded has been sat on my shelf for about a month waiting to be read and reviewed for Centenary News and I think it has just bumped up the list to the much coveted spot of 'next up to be read'. It addresses a different aspect of the war and has discovered some originality in a subject that is much written about. I'm setting Lolita aside for the evening and I'm going to start Wounded right now...well, in a few minutes.

James Runcie opened the discussions by asking the judges what place curiosity has in their lives. Their answers were detailed and fascinating - one of them said that you wouldn't really be living if you were not curious. When I think about this in relation to my own life, I find I'm inclined to wholeheartedly agree with that statement. I am infinitely curious - about people, places, things, cultures, life - and I think I read to satiate and feed this curiosity within me. I love how books can both satisfy and pique curiosity. If I'm reading around a certain subject, let's say WW1, each new book I read satisfies that curious part of me but also opens up a huge selection of possibilities for more knowledge which ends up making me more and more curious with every page. It's an endless cycle and no matter how much I want to read all the books, there will always be more books. Curiosity may have killed the cat but I think it is a powerfully positive force. I don't think I'd have read half the books I have or discovered the subjects I am passionate about without being curious. So basically, here's to being curious! 

The entire evening was full of interesting, lively and engaging discussion from the judges (I totally have a nerd crush on James Runcie), as well as some complete gems from Andrew Motion (I never thought I'd hear Motion talk about a fellow writer's 'mojo' but he definitely discussed Oliver Sacks'!). For the second year running I've spent World Book Night at the Southbank Center and frankly, I'm hoping for many more years of the same. This event and the one last year made me think about the reasons why I read and in discovering how my approach to reading changes and, dare I say it, matures, my ridiculously over enthusiastic passion for reading grows that little bit more. World Book Night - I salute you!

How did you spent World Book Night 2014? Tucked up reading or spreading the bookish love? Do you read because you're curious?



  1. I am 'cursed' (in the best possible way) with a desire to know and understand almost everything. It's a need on a par with needing to eat or breath - just more so! Oh, and you're spot on with the whole opening doors thing. I read a book because it looks interesting or fun. There's a character in it, or a place, or a bit of technology that I find particularly interesting so I dig deeper and start getting books on steam engines, or Picasso or graphic design or a hundred other things - only to discover more people, places or things that likewise pique my interest further. I'd so like to live forever just so I could read all the books I want to read..... [lol]

  2. "It's an endless cycle and no matter how much I want to read all the books, there will always be more books."<-- this is so true! Sometimes it feels like a whole world of possibility open to me, but other times it can feel overwhelming, I must admit. Sometimes I watch a movie or come across an idea, a concept, a person, or a time period that I want to learn more about and can get lost researching all the different books on that particular topic. The only problem then is finding the time to read them all! It feels a bit like a binge sometimes and then I remember all the other topics and subjects my bookcases are exploding with...I guess there are much worse problems to have though! Curiosity is definitely a good thing, I think I just need to be careful about getting a bit OCD about it :)


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