29 April 2006
Winterson's Her Word. She's writing on the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. On why literature is important.
Books must now compete against films, against television, against the internet — the noisy new media. Books are quieter, but we must still listen.
Literature is a place where you can always go and always be welcome. No one is shut out. It is truly global, in that it crosses all boundaries but does not seek to make everything and everyone the same.
Literature is about discovering difference. That is why it is so important, in our world now, that it be available. The internet is no substitute for a good bookshop where a real-life browser will always find something unexpected, and come away the better for it.
The story goes, there were only 6 books in the house Winterson grew up in. One was the Bible - and 5 other books on the Bible. So she bought books and hid them under her mattress. Her mother peered in one day and found a DH Lawrence. Mrs Winterson proceeded to set the books on fire.
What she learnt that day from her mother was how some people burnt books - because you never know what you will find in books until it was too late. She also started to memorize passages from books - because they can't take away what you take from the books.