An inside report from the 2012 Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing

Photo by Leah Duck.

By Michele Kesten, Bookclub-in-a-Box’s China Correspondent

One of my favourite haunts in Beijing, The Bookworm, is a comfortable bookstore, library, café, and event venue spread throughout three adjoining rooms. Things are really hopping these days in this unique centre, which hosts the annual Bookworm International Literary Festival—a three-week celebration of literature and ideas that includes book talks, panel discussions, debates, film screenings, and so much more. Both English-speaking and Chinese-speaking book lovers anticipate this event, and tickets sell out early. This year’s festival wrapped up last Friday, and attracted a wide range of readers and authors.

Friends and I attended a fascinating discussion with Toronto author Jonathan Campbell on the history of rock ‘n’ roll in China. I had an early taste of what we’d hear from the Bookclub-in-a-Box interview with Jonathan last month about his new book, Red Rock: The Long Strange March of Chinese Rock & Roll, which he wrote after 10 years as a part of the Beijing music scene.

Jonathan Campbell's book, which launched last fall.

Since I now live in China and am desperately trying to reach some understanding of this complex country, I was looking forward to any insight that Jon could give through his interest in the emergence of music enjoyed by Chinese young people.

His discussion with Chinese music critic Hao Fang offered ideas about Chinese rock’s explosive yet unique sound and related it to the “underground” of China. Their ideas were very interesting and left a lot to mull over. I was especially interested in the connection he saw between what was, and is presently, going on in Chinese society and rock ‘n’ roll music. My head nodded in agreement when he commented that North Americans really don’t have an inkling of what China is really like.

Jonathan spoke well, with a great presence. He had a wonderful ability to almost sound academic and at the same time, to paint a lovely personal image of himself as a starry-eyed young man, newly arrived in China, and full of delight with everything he heard and saw.

Jon and Fang left us curious to discover more about where both rock music and China are headed in the future. At the end of his talk, Jonathan was mobbed and I had to squeeze into line to get a copy of his book. I expect to be wiser about China when I’ve finished reading it.

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Other Canadians featured at the Bookworm International Literary Festival included: Alison Pick, poet and author (Far to Go); Zsuzsi Gartner, short story writer and author (Better Living Through Plastic Explosives); Eleanor Wachtel, host of CBC radio’s Writers & Company; Joshua Knelman, founding member of The Walrus and author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives Through the Secret World of Stolen Art; and Michael Tamblyn, executive vice-president of content, sales, and merchandising at Kobo and former CEO of BookNet Canada.

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