Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


September/October 2011: Babs Asper

By the Book

Written by:

On a bike ride the other day, I whizzed past a man who was walking briskly—with his nose buried in a book. I grinned all the way down the block. Why don’t I do that any more?

A couple of years ago, my son was slogging through one of those junior high hell zones. He was short-tempered with his peers, he was distracted in class, and his assignments were late. One of his teachers asked him if she could do something to help him out. He thought for a long minute, then said, “I was happier when I was reading more. I think I need to find a really good book.”

We were all a bit stunned by that observation, but he was right. He had been swept into such a vortex of schoolyard politics and academic anxiety that he had lost his connection with the private and profoundly creative core of himself. He needed to bury his nose in a book—literally—to regain his balance.

I learned a lot in that moment. My child reminded me that the things we often set off to the side as leisure can actually play a crucial role in helping us organize our experiences and restore our energies. When he was fully invested in one of the multi-volume adventures that were his passion, he was giving himself time and space to explore social structures and communication strategies and character and wit. He was letting himself be challenged, amused, frightened, and soothed. He was valuing his privacy.

All sorts of art forms offer a similar invitation—movies, photographs, theatre, dance, music—but I’m particularly interested in books, and though they’re under siege these days, I have a deep confidence that they will continue to survive, and even thrive. They’re such efficient carriers of our cultural fingerprints, and even as the delivery modes shift (think e-readers and audio-books), the appeal of a private world that allows you the full benefit of re-creation won’t ever disappear.

One of the great fortunes of my life is that I get to create a festival of writers every year. I think of THIN AIR as a kind of movable feast—every September, dozens of writers bring their dreaming to life on stages and in discussions. I admit unabashedly that I love this particular week every year, but I love the run-up to it as well—the months of reading hundreds of books and manuscripts, listening for the distinctive voices, the writers who have a freshness, an eloquence, a courage in their creations. I’m keen to meet every one of them, and I’m also keen to share them with the readers in this city.

I hope you’ll join me at some of the myriad events that make up THIN AIR 2011. Every writer will be opening portals to worlds both magical and muscular. And I know from experience that people are going to tumble into those worlds and be transformed.


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