Whilst it might sound like something made up in recent times by the book industry to boost sales, The Festival of Reading the Neglected is actually very old. It was begun by the Society of Bibliomaniacs in 1611, after a violent argument broke out between the two leading lights of the Society, who had written extensively on what they called the ‘natural good’ of books. Sirte Arlem, the official Chair, and Duglant Treir, the General Secretary, had grown the membership of the Society extensively over the previous three years, from seven people to something approaching three hundred, by advancing their theories that books improved a person’s moral and intellectual capacity, as well as being a source of ‘unimpeded happiness;’ they did not disappear when consumed, and didn’t have the unwanted side effects of other aids to happiness like drugs, food or strong liquor.
Competition within the Society was strong, with members frequently boasting about the size of their personal libraries, or about the rareness of their recent acquisitions. In order to maintain their status as leaders, Arlem, Treir and the other members of the Committee found themselves aggressively purchasing books at an alarming rate, which was having a considerable negative effect on their bank balances. This competition brought out fractious differences in the theories of the leaders; whilst Arlem believed that the mere presence and appearance of books, the satisfaction gained by their accumulation, was enough to stimulate the ‘unimpeded happiness’ and moral benefits, Treir believed that you actually had to read the things, once you’d bought them.
This argument bubbled under the surface for some time, but with factions forming around each leader, tensions began to rise and communication between the leaders began to fail. Arlem frequently derided Treir because of the low value and seemingly pulpy nature of the books he purchased, whereas Treir portrayed Arlem as a vacuous woman, concerned only with the appearance of things, rather than their substance. Arlem could not understand why Treir kept all the dog-eared, spine-broken paperbacks he’d read, not spotting the pride and happiness that this physical record gave him. In return, Treir failed to recognise that the happiness Arlem gained from her books was not only found in the appearance of their well-ordered shelves, but also in the potential these shelves held; the knowledge that at any point she could find something excellent to read.
As is the way with these things, the argument that broke out at the AGM of the Society in 1611 between Arlem and Treir wasn’t really about books. Things had progressed beyond that point; they were both in large amounts of debt, and their partners had both left, having an affair with each other. The result of the fight, which involved many harsh words and a few thrown objects, led to two things: Arlem stepped down and Treir took their place as the Chair, immediately declaring a month long festival starting following day, where the members would all go home and actually read the books they’d bought, selling off anything they didn’t truly love. Whilst this dramatically changed the dynamic of the Society of Bibliomaniacs, making it a more sustainable institution that didn’t drive its leaders to bankruptcy, it didn’t save either leader from the Requisitioners later that year; both were faced with the humiliation of auctioning all their books off, a process which actually brought them closer together, rekindling a friendship that they had forgotten.
The festival has, in its modern incarnation, been reduced to a single day, and there is no requirement to sell off any books; today is simply a day when Buentoillitants all across the City will look at their bending bookshelves and pick out a long-neglected volume, spending the whole day reading. There has been an attempt to make things more social in recent years, with ‘read outs’ hosted by the Society of Bibliomaniacs, which is, miraculously, still existent. Yet for many, these are merely a distraction from their book; for many, today is an excuse be alone in quiet reflection.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Dennic Gunther Appreciation Day
- The Clapping of the Door Festival
- The Festival of Emollient Architecture