5 activities for bookish introverts

Reading and writing are wonderfully solitary activities – but occasionally one feels moved to rejoin the real world. Here are five bookish things to do that might tempt you out of the house…

Photograph of Thomas Hardy's cottageThomas Hardy’s cottage by National Trust Images/Robert Morris

When I first moved out of London and started working from home I found it horribly quiet. Obviously it was nice for a bit, but after a few days spent in silence I started craving noise, colour, movement and some sort of human contact. I would drive into town just to be around other people and witness signs of life. And then I got used to it. Really really used to it. I loved being on my own to the point of barely leaving the house for days. If I didn’t have children I would probably be a full-on hermit by now – not in a Howard Hughes lying-in-my-own-filth sort of way you understand, more a mysterious yet intriguing Emily Dickinson/J. D. Salinger/Harper Lee type of thing of course.

Yet now and again I do think I should get out more. It’s not good for a writer – particularly one who specialises in design/lifestyle subjects – to be shut off from the world. I mean, honestly, I do love it. Family aside, I could spend 90 per cent of my time by myself (preferably reading) and be perfectly happy; I’m a classic introvert who recharges by spending time alone rather than with other people. But experience is exhilarating and energising and creatively necessary, and I do love my friends (no really, come back, I do!). So I’ve put together a list of literary-based activities that could tempt the most bookish introvert into the open – you don’t even have to speak if you don’t want to, I mean, let’s not go crazy here…

1. The literary festival
My goodness, they’re everywhere. I didn’t realise it until I started researching this piece, but nearly every town has one. Here in Bath we have an annual 10-day event which has hosted Booker prize winners Kazuo Ishiguro, Hilary Mantel and Howard Jacobson; leading political thinkers including Tony Benn, Tariq Ali and Eric Hobsbawm, and poets such as Andrew Motion, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. Pretty cool!

There’s also a children’s festival that last year featured talks by Julia Donaldson, Judith Kerr, Michael Rosen, Cressida Cowell and Chris Riddell. I went to a couple of events with my kids and they loved it. These guys know their audience, obviously, and are fascinating to listen to.

Click here for a list of other festivals around the UK. You’ll be amazed at the choice! One of the biggest and best known is the Hay Festival, which attracts some serious literary hard-hitters and has now gone global, with events in Ireland, Mexico, Spain, Peru and Colombia. This year’s UK event starts today and there are still tickets left if you fancy a spontaneous trip to Hay-on-Wye (famous for its second-hand bookshops, although I’ve heard they’re on the pricey side these days).

There are also actual festival festivals, with camping and everything, that have a distinctly literary bent. Port Eliot (28-31 July in St Germans, Cornwall) is held in the grounds of a stately home and this year features talks by Gloria Steinem, Ali Smith and A. L. Kennedy, as well as music, comedy, foodie stuff, creative workshops (including calligraphy, OMG) and all kinds of other revelry. Latitude (14-17 July in Southwold, Suffolk) also has a spoken word stage, as does Glastonbury – but good luck with getting tickets to that ever again.

2. The silent reading party
Oh yeah, it’s a thing. And I have to say that, pointless as they sound, I really like the idea. Basically you just sit around and read with a group of friends – or strangers – at someone’s home, in the park, in a (pre-booked) hotel lounge… anywhere that is comfortable, atmospheric and quiet. They last an hour or two (after which time you may chat!), usually on weekday evenings or Sunday afternoons, are mostly free (just pay for your drinks), and their devotees describe the experience as “restorative”, “church-like” and “magical”. Readers enjoy them so much because they allow them to be around people, make gentle contact with other book lovers and get some reading done at the same time – really, it sounds like the perfect form of socialising to me. At the moment there’s a London group, and Waterstones is starting to catch on to the idea, too, but I really hope this takes off across the UK.

3. The bookshop event
Despite the dominance of Amazon and Waterstones, local bookshops still persevere and many hold author events to promote new titles. It’s a fun and relatively intimate way to meet your favourite writers, ask questions and chat to like-minded locals. Sorry to mention Bath again but, for example, Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights has events with Alexander Masters, Hadley Freeman (sold out!), and poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy coming up. Check out your local store and see what they’ve got lined up.

4. The literary tour
As with festivals, you can either dip your toe in the water or go the whole hog with this. Literary tours can involve a few hours exploring a historic site or area, such as this “Wolf Hall” themed tour of Bristol Cathedral, this walking tour of Jane Austen’s Bath (ahem), or an afternoon visiting Beatrix Potter’s favourite areas of the Lake District. Or you can make an entire holiday of it, with a stay at Virginia Woolf’s country retreat, a long weekend exploring Tolkien’s Birmingham, or a series of guided literary walks through London. The National Trust also has loads of houses with literary connections that would make a gorgeous day out. Some literary tours are scheduled, with transport and a guide; others can be done at your leisure – all you need is the relevant map (sometimes downloadable, sometimes available from tourist centres) plus, you know, comfortable shoes, waterproofs and a flask of tea.

5. The library event
Ten per cent of UK libraries are under threat of closure, and multi-million pound cuts in local authority budgets have led to huge numbers of staff redundancies and a vast reduction in services. The official line is that far fewer people use libraries than ever before and of course that is true, now that we have Google, and Kindles, and Wikipedia. But there is also a chicken and egg situation going on here – as more and more libraries close down, fewer people are able to visit them, and those closures are not considered when the figures are calculated. What’s more, many people use libraries’ virtual services and that is not taken into account either.

But libraries are still the cultural and educational hub of our communities – everyone should have access to books and information and the expertise of trained librarians who can help you find exactly what you need in a way that Google never could. Many people can’t afford to buy books, digital or otherwise, and don’t have access to the internet at home; libraries also provide local and community information, IT and printing services, historical archives and research services, children’s story times… for many people they are an absolute lifeline.

So, ahem, my point is that we should support our libraries, and one way you could do this and get out of the house is to go along to their events – from reading groups to writing workshops, poetry readings to author talks, there is usually loads of great stuff going on.

So, now the sun is out do you feel inspired to go out and explore? I’ll be in London soon and I have some literary treats lined up for the kiddos: The Railway Children at King’s Cross Theatre, The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl at The Southbank Centre, and a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe, if we can fit it in. I will report back!

PS, quick disclaimer: I haven’t personally tried all the stuff I’ve linked to so I can’t guarantee its quality – but I do think it all sounds fab.

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