The power of books to take us to other worlds and help us feel empathy with people were highlighted in a powerful address by the British writer and broadcaster Sally Magnusson at the Scottish Book Trade Conference held in Edinburgh on 22 February.
“When all else is gone it is stories that can save us”, she said. “Ambiguity and complexity are at the heart of human condition and now more than ever we need writers to remind us of this. When George Saunders won the Man Booker Prize last year, he talked about having faith in the idea of what seems other is not other at all – really just us on a different day”.
She said that the book trade was involved in an “important crusade” to promote empathy and connection as an answer to the prevailing mood of otherness and inwardness. She believes it is artists, novelists, poets, short-story writers and non-fiction writers “who reminds us what empathy is. It is writers’ stock-in-trade to imagine other lives, and to take the reader there and command them to stay and try and understand them better”.
More than 230 delegates from across the book industry attended the conference which included an illustrated presentation from the Academy of British Cover Design and sessions from various independent booksellers.
Magnusson has presented many television programmes for the BBC and is the author of several books, some exploring her Icelandic ancestry. She concluded her address with this rallying cry for the whole book industry: “Long live stories, the written world, the publishers who believe in it, the booksellers who press it into hands of readers, the agents who help writers up and everyone else engaged in this great labour of love and faith.”