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As I mentioned in my latest Book Haul, I have recently been to the signing of the book “How Literature Can Change Your Life” (Greek: Πώς η λογοτεχνία αλλάζει τη ζωή σου) by Dimitris Stefanakis. I had never read another book by this author and I had never even heard of him before, but this book sounded really interesting, so I thought it would be nice to go. Also, there aren’t as many opportunities to meet authors here in my city compared to other cities in Greece, so I simply could not miss the opportunity. Before I tell you about my thoughts on the event, let me tell you a few things about the author and the book so that you know what I’m talking about.
About the author:
Dimitris Stefanakis is a fiction writer and translator.In 2011 his novel Days of Alexandria (Greek: Μέρες Αλεξάνδρειας) was awarded the French “Prix Méditerranée étranger” and the “International Cavafy Award for prose”. He has translated contemporary literature (Saul Bellow, John Updike, Margaret Atwood, E.M. Forster, Joseph Brodsky) into Greek.
About the book:
“Αν επιμένουμε ακόμα να διαβάζουμε λογοτεχνία στην εποχή μας είναι γιατί πιστεύουμε σε αυτό που μας προσφέρει. Δε θα καταφέρουμε ποτέ να αλλάξουμε τον κόσμο με την ποίηση και τα μυθιστορήματα, αξίζει όμως τον κόπο να δοκιμάσουμε την ευεργετική επίδρασή τους στη ζωή και στον χαρακτήρα μας. Αν με ρωτούσε κανείς πώς η λογοτεχνία μπορεί να αλλάξει τη ζωή μου, θα απαντούσα πως η λογοτεχνία κυρίως σου μαθαίνει τρόπους. Σε κάνει λιγότερο σίγουρο για τον εαυτό σου, λιγότερο μελοδραματικό και κραυγαλέο, λιγότερο αφελή και ευκολόπιστο αλλά και πιο ευγενή στη γλώσσα, πιο διορατικό στις ανθρώπινες σχέσεις.
Στη ζωή τα πράγματα δεν είναι συνήθως όπως φαίνονται κι η λογοτεχνία θα βρίσκεται πάντα εδώ για να μας το θυμίζει.”
Nora’s really bad translation of the book’s summary. I’m sorry but there isn’t an English translation of the book, so there’s no English translation of the book’s summary either…
“The fact that we are still reading literature today means that we believing in what it has to offer. We cannot change the world through poems and novels, it is still worth it to try their beneficial effect on our lives and our characters. If someone were to ask me how literature can change their lives, I would answer them that most importantly literature teaches you better manners. It makes one less sure of oneself, less melodramatic and rude, less naive and gullible, but also more polite and more insightful on human relationships.”
About the event
More than a week before the signing, I had received an e-mail from the publishing house with an invitation to the event. So, I went and looked the book up and decided that I had to go.
But who would I go with? Of course, I asked my sister first. However, my sister snubs everything I read just because I read it, without having read the books herself. (I will be making a discussion post on this subject soon.) So, she automatically refused. Then I asked my best friend, if she would like to come, but she’s not very much into books and she worked that night or she would have said yes.
At this point I was at my wit’s end. There was no one else to invite/ask/beg to come with me. I was getting desperate enough to ask my mother to be the one to accompany me to a book event. (She is an even greater book snub than my sister. Who do you think Eleni got it from?)
That was when a small miracle happened, my phone rang, and the best idea in the world stuck me. Giouli -one of my father’s employees- called and while we were talking on the phone, I thought: Why not? It’s not like I have something to lose. And that was how I found people to come with me. Giouli and her husband were to be my saviors.
Sigh. Me and my social awkwardness.
Anyway, so when we did get to the cafe-bar that the signing was going to take place the place was full of people. Now, it is true that it’s not a huge space, but there were close to 50 people for a non-fiction book. I didn’t expect to see so many people and neither did anybody else because it was obvious that the available space was too small.
Irregardless of the small space though, I was quite pleased with the number of people attending the event for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it spoke a lot for my townspeople love for literature. And secondly, because I got to sit right next to the author.
So, when the presentation of the book started, the publisher of a local newspaper gave a very brief speech and then it was time for the author himself to speak and answer questions. What I really liked was that the first thing Mr. Stefanakis said was that his purpose for coming to Veroia was not to advertise his new book but rather to promote literature as an art form, encourage people’s love for books and discuss with us how literature can actually change your life. And, indeed, he was honest. During the discussion he never even once talked about his book or what he wrote in it, he never made a referance to it.
After that, the discussion started. There was a great deal of topics like classic literature, modern Greek literature, Hitler’s followers and WWII, whether or not authors can send a message to the reader through their books, whether or not literature can teach people things about life, feminism. I could go on but even though it was a brief event there was a great number of topics discussed.
A few things I learned about Dimitris Stefanakis that night:
- He is someone who can support his opinions with well-balanced arguments. During this discussion, whenever someone asked him a question he would offer his opinion and actually explain why he believed what he said.
- Despite that fact, he accepts that contrasting opinions to his own might exist and does not try to convert you to his way of thinking. He never even once said to anyone that they are wrong and that they should agree with him. On the contrary, he himself admitted once or twice that his opinion on this subject or the other was not a very popular one.
- He listens to the person talking to him. Not just that but throughout the event people would talk to him and ask him questions and he would remain silent until the person talking was finished. Then he would stop for a moment to think and when he gave his reply it would be obvious that he had considered what had just been said. I believe that this is very important especially considering that we live in a society that everybody struggles to be heard, but no one ever listens.
- He is a feminist. I don’t mean feminist in the twisted sense that the term has acquired over the years. I’m not saying that he is a misandrist. Misandrist and feminist are two very different words. What I’m saying is that the author talked about how he loves women of all shapes and sizes, called himself a feminist and said that he supports the equality between men and women. Coming from a man, it makes for a nice change.
- He’s not afraid to admit lack of knowledge. At one point a teacher asked him what was the best way to make young people love books. His answer to her began somewhat like this: “I don’t have any experience with middle grade literature. I have never wrote middle grade books and so I haven’t the experience to be able to tell you that this is what you should do. To be honest, I don’t really know. I could pretend like other colleagues of mine might have done that I have some secret knowledge on this, but I don’t. However,…” I actually, agree with him that there are people who would offer her advice without really knowing whether they are right or wrong. The fact that he did not offer an opinion on the subject made me pay even more attention to what he said after that. It is funny, sometimes how what you don’t say is more important than what you do say. People expend so much energy trying to figure out the best thing to say, when sometimes remaining silent would have been much more beneficial.
- He was very approachable. You have to remember that we are talking about a person who has won important awards for his work. He could have appeared very aloof and distant and he could have pulled it off. Instead he made it easy for you to talk to him.
All in all, what I saw was a well-educated man, who is worth listening to. And I have to say that after meeting him, I want to be a person that is worth listening to as well.
Now it’s your turn…
Have you heard of Dimitris Stefanakis? Would you like to read one of his books? What are your thoughts on what I’ve written in this post? Did you like it? Would you like me to make more posts were I talk about Greek authors?
Tell me all about it in the comments below…