‘Logout of social media’: Radio producer Elizabeth McCarthy wants you to reconnect with books this Sydney Writers’ Festival

Elizabeth McCarthy wants you to logout of your social media, put your phone and laptop in another room and just enjoy a book – free from distraction.

That’s the message the famed radio producer and savvy book reviewer hopes audience members take home from this year’s Sydney Writers’ Festival.

McCarthy will visit Castle Hill Library on May 2 to interview famed author Christian White as part of the Festival, which celebrates writing in all its forms and glory.

Ahead of the author talk, Focus had the chance to catch-up with the Victorian native about her current reads, what her most gifted book is and the importance of habitual reading.

This is what she had to say:

Focus: When did your love for books begin? 

Elizabeth: When I was preverbal. I used books as footballs, punching bags, and weapons of war around the house, apparently. My, how I’ve grown.

Focus: What is your most gifted book to others? 

Elizabeth: A.M. Homes’ novel “May We Be Forgiven” is a gift I’ve given to a broad range of friends who love reading – or who need more reading in their lives. From the first page it takes off at break-neck speed, with plenty of action, a family meltdown, ridiculous sex, precarious travel, and the feeling that disaster lurks around every corner. It exudes life and wit and empathy.

Focus: What types of books do you enjoy reading? 

Elizabeth: I think being entertained while reading is really crucial. Whether reading genre novels, or political non-fiction, or books that are considered way “serious” literature, I like to be entertained. “Entertainment” is a dirty Hollywood word and concept that rarely gets thrown about in literary circles. But even the quietest of books need to have a gripping, entertaining yarn at their core.

Focus: What are you reading at the moment? 

Elizabeth: Jock Serong’s “Preservation”. It’s a novel based on an actual shipwreck in Bass Strait in 1797. Colonisation, violence, politics, death, and survival. Google tells me that there are a few million shipwrecks on ocean floors around the globe. That’s a few million stories that are still to be told.

Focus: What do you hope people take away from the Sydney Writers’ Festival? 

Elizabeth: That attending public talks about books and ideas is a chance to participate and contribute to contemporary culture and conversations. And also that the act of reading is thrilling. That spending equal time watching Netflix as reading books is a recipe for a fulfilling life.

Focus: Do you have any tips for those wanting to start or get back into the habit of reading? 

Elizabeth: Log out of social media – and the internet all together – for one day (or even half a day). Please place your phone and laptop in another room! Sit in a comfy chair in a quiet spot and read for a few hours at a time. Make yourself cups of tea and have a bowl of snacks on hand. Start reading, and be very patient with yourself if you haven’t done this in a long time, because your brain is going to try to dart off in all manner of directions. You might need to read the first few pages of a book two or three times, because you need to retrain your poor brain to read in this fashion – that is, with a physical book and without a screen screaming in your face that you need to buy this thing, or you aren’t adequate enough, or you need to worry about your life. Just read, and be patient. Sit, and be still, and read. You are accessing another dimension!

Focus: What do you enjoy about interviewing authors? 

Elizabeth: Generally speaking, authors are great talkers. Words live and breathe all over them, so they generally have plenty to say. And importantly, they know how to say it. Years ago, I interviewed only rock stars. What a life! So much aching cool. Cool on tap, frankly. But authors make me feel mighty real.

Focus: Anything else that you would like to add? 

Elizabeth: See you at SWF!

Catch Elizabeth and Christian White at Castle Hill Library on Thursday, May 2, from 6.30pm.

Tickets start from $12.50.

Find out more at www.thehills.nsw.gov.au.

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