Review: The London Word Festival

The book swap selection at the Goodbye Library show (London Word Festival).

Rob Fred Parker continues his coverage of the London Word Festival for, with reviews of shows The Goodbye Library and No Furniture So Charming.

On the 27th of April the Nave, a beautifully untouched church in Islington, hosted The Goodbye Library, held as part of London Word Festival’s ‘Libraries and Public Reading’ programme. Written by Emmy the Great and Jack Underwood, a rising musician and a rising poet respectively, this ‘lament for the local library’ encompassed music, poetry, comedy and readings, presented in accordance to sections of the Dewey Decimal system. Attendants were urged to bring along a book and to leave with a different one. I donated Hallam Foe and left with Dharma Bums: a fair trade.

Comedian Miriam Elia’s obscure lessons on Parenthood provided an early highlight, as did Jack Underwood’s poetic interpretation of the Popular Music department, verse about violins, backed by the very instruments themselves, particularly striking. Author and poet Nikesh Shukla continued the section by reading from his novel Coconut Unlimited. The passage concerned two teenagers who, upon hearing Public Enemy’s ‘Don’t Believe the Hype, skive off their Gujarati lessons to record their own rap songs with a pair of tape recorders. The rhythm of Shukla’s delivery effectively animated his nostalgic tribute to tape-hiss smothered home recordings and the ache of cheeks ballooned by beat-boxing.

Representing Geography, author Joe Dunthorne recounted us with the tale of his gap year, in which he swapped South Wale’s ‘sandy beaches, laid-back surfy lifestyle and anglicised culture that ignores its indigenous people and ancient language’, for: New South Wales. Dunthorne became a largely unsuccessful telecommunications salesman, living in humid squalor in Sydney. Upon his return, when his friends expectantly asked him if he’d had ‘the time of his life’, he found himself too tired to argue with them. Dunthorne wonders if anyone actually enjoys their gap year, but just says so whilst suppressing the truth in a kind of ‘large-scale forgetting’. He did learn something, though; ‘because of its sheer bottomless vacuity, the year gave me the motivation to do something with my future’.

Emmy the Great, with the help of Elizabeth Sankey, brings us Teen Fiction in the form of a celebration of the Sweet Valley High pantheon. A roll call of all the improbable deaths occurring in the series of books, accompanied by dramatic piano, was particularly amusing. Emmy also celebrated the Mind, Body and Spirit department, and especially diffuse selection of books found in this section of her local Paddington library. Her set of songs takes starting points as diffuse as the fervent yet discredited publication ‘Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After His Crucifixion’, and Greek mythology’s Cassandra, and how unfortunate she was to be gifted with prophecy but fated to never be believed. What Emmy’s songs celebrated was the library’s singular skill of providing something we wouldn’t find anywhere else, and this was very much a central theme to No Furniture So Charming’s discussion of the role of the library on the 21st of April.

Set at the similarly beautiful Bethnal Green library, No Furniture So Charming saw presentations and proceeding discussions about how the library will need to adapt to remain relevant in the future. Sharing a sentiment with The Goodbye Library, the panel of librarians, writers and library-visitors alike agreed that the serendipity of discovering something you wouldn’t usually find is an asset the library has, and one which the internet cannot boast.

Writer and games designer Kirsten Campbell’s proposal for the future library was influenced by her childhood assisting her father, mobile librarian in the highlands of Scotland, a period which, although earned her the nickname ‘Book Bus Bird’, enriched her life. Campbell brought up the issue of curatorship, a task her father tackled by recommending books and actively conversing with the community. Architect Nicky Kirk proposed that libraries should be ‘a spa retreat for the brain’, and enhance our sensory experience to aid our immersion in the written word. Contrastingly, Dan Thompson, member of the Empty Shops Network, stressed the importance of the availability resources over their physical surroundings, stating the case that disused spaces should be utilised to provide services.

Whilst some argued libraries are solely about books, others stated they are irrelevant as long as other resources are present, all agreed that libraries are crucial because they offer free services, which are not found anywhere else. The panel stressed that libraries are so important to communities because they provide free information and resources across mediums, and the library of the future, in whatever form it may take, must continue to do so, with the librarian as curator also a crucial element. Although The Goodbye Library ended with a satirical, abrupt exclamation that the government were shutting the show, and all libraries for that matter, down, the inventive ideas displayed at No Furniture So Charming’s energetic discussion strongly suggest the preservation of the library isn’t a lost cause.


The London Word Festival continues until 5th May. You can find out more at

Rob Fred Parker

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