Katherine Rundell and Fabio Stassi on loving books and finding wonder in the world
A slight breeze cut though the heat of the afternoon in the grassy courtyard which hosted an enthusiastic conversation between Italian librarian and author Fabio Stassi, peripatetic reader Simonetta Bitasi, and children’s author Katherine Rundell, who joined them via video link from London.
Stassi, whose book Crescere con i libri (Growing With Books) promotes the idea that good books are not just for kids, and Bitasi, who describes herself as a professional reader, admitted surprise at Rundell’s book Why You Should Read Children’s Books, Even Though You Are So Old And Wise. Anglo-Saxon children’s literature is highly regarded in Italy, they said. The same can’t be said of Italian books.
“You are the home of Pinocchio,” responded Rundell, “the strangest, wildest children’s book ever written.”
Literary fiction helps us imagine possible futures, Rundell said, and also to experience the interior realities of many different lives. It can expand your heart. Stassi talked about the language of giraffes. They are big-hearted animals, he said, and their language is comforting. Bitasi said that during lockdown she read only children’s books. They brought comfort and saved her from dark thoughts.
We should acknowledge many truths, said Rundell. It’s important to acknowledge the dark ones, but we shouldn’t invest too much in them. There are still many things that are breath-taking in the world. Writers may find that they don’t want to write about the pandemic, she added. She gives the example of Shakespeare, who lived through four plague epidemics, but hardly mentions them in his work.
The audience, which contained numerous librarians, applauded at Stassi’s observation that every book is a library in itself. Each one contains all the books that the author has read, he said. “I always say that libraries are the only place you get something for nothing,” said Stassi. They talked about the important role of libraries in the community and Rundell expressed sadness that many UK libraries are closing. The situation is different in Italy, where libraries have received funds aimed at supporting local bookshops. But a library is worth nothing, the three speakers agreed, without a librarian.