"At the start of lockdown, e-book purchases rose by up to 140% in Spain"

 Roger Canadell

Roger Canadell

Àngels Doñate
Roger Canadell, member of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the UOC


St. Jordi (St. George's Day) is a festival for readers…, but also for authors and professionals of the world of literature and publishing. Roger Canadell, a member of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities of the UOC, will experience this celebration in 2021 in a variety of roles: as a reader and teacher, he has just published Et devia una carta. Correspondència Miquel Martí i Pol - Joan Oliver (1961-1983)  (I owed you a letter. Correspondence between Miquel Martí i Pol and Joan Oliver (1961-1983)) (EUMO), which bears testament not just to the friendship between these two authors but also to the construction of a cultural network during the dictatorship and in the context of the situation of Catalan literature in those years. Although we will be celebrating this festival in the midst of the pandemic once again, according to Canadell: "It seems that, with the health measures and capacity restrictions in place, we will be able to have a much more community-based St. George's Day". He is also optimistic about the future since, in his opinion: "Collectively, we will be more responsible in the way we consume culture, because we will appreciate the importance of things that we've been unable to experience normally for a long time."

How was the project Et devia una carta. Miquel Martí i Pol - Joan Oliver (1961-1983) devised? What made you take it on? 

As a philologist and resident of Roda de Ter, I've been involved for years with the activities of the Miquel Martí i Pol Foundation, of which I was also assistant director for some time. I'm in contact with the poet's family, which led to Montserrat Sans, Martí i Pol's widow, showing me a whole load of material in 2019 - which she later donated to the Foundation's legacy - with correspondence between the Roda-born poet and Joan Oliver from 1961 to 1983. Following this donation, I started doing some research in archives in Roda, Barcelona, Sabadell..., and found more handwritten and typed documents showing that Antoni Turull, Joan Oliver's nephew, in collaboration with Miquel Martí i Pol himself, had already started to prepare this collection of letters for publication in 1986. Martí i Pol finally decided not to publish them due to the compromising assertions made in them in relation to writers, politicians, artists and publishers, but he left a written record stating that a few years later those materials would be valuable "as a historical, literary and sociological document". It was this statement that drove me to resume the studying and editing work that had started 35 years ago.

What will readers find in this book? 

When I first read the letters, I immediately felt that they were extremely interesting for many reasons, but these can all be summed up in three. First, this correspondence bears testament to the growing friendship between two great writer friends. Reading them gives you first-hand knowledge of the intimate experience of personal events, such as their respective illnesses, financial difficulties, hopes, relationships with other writers and artists, and more. Secondly, the letters show how, during Franco's dictatorship and the time known as the transition to democracy, writers from different generations (Oliver was Martí i Pol's senior by 30 years), of different social backgrounds, with different geographical origins and who had led very different lives wanted to build together a common cultural network throughout Catalonia. And, in the third place, the dialogue between Miquel Martí i Pol and Joan Oliver reflects the reality of Catalan literature and the world of publishing between the 1960s and the 1980s. It is worth noting that the poet from Roda has been the most published Catalan-language author since 1975 and that, until the age of 80, Joan Oliver was literary director of the publishing house Aymà-Proa.

How do you think a letter helps us understand an author and their work? 

The publication of a set of letters such as those included in Et devia una carta is nothing more than the public dissemination of a dialogue written by two great writers from a place of intimacy and candour. This shows us, without many filters, little-known biographical facts about them, such as moods, projects, hopes and disappointments. But, in addition, in the case of Martí i Pol and Oliver, we are lucky because some of the letters contain opinions, criticism or justification for some of their own works. And, as you can imagine, this is of extraordinary interest: finding new clues to understanding books such as Estimada MartaL'hoste insòlit and Poesia empírica is fascinating.

People don't write as many letters now... Do you think this genre will be lost?

Those of us who enjoy reading collections of letters and publishers or curators who know the value of this kind of material wonder if in a few years' time we will be able to retrieve from databases personal emails or messages exchanged through networks. What we can say for certain is that all of these communication methods that have been available to us since the emergence of digital technology - which we must admit does make things easier for us - will have cost us to some extent the slow rhythm of sending and receiving words that were often eagerly awaited. Personally, when I read the "written conversations" embodied in compilations of letters, I think of Maragall's words in Elogi de la paraula: "I have faith particularly in conversation, because it is the most natural method of verbal communication and it contains the seed for all others. It provides better insight into the spirits that are weighed up and balanced in it."

As a writer and reader, you will experience another pandemic St. George's Day. Reading is an intimate act that has survived. But what about the social, festive and economic aspects surrounding books? 

Unlike last year, it seems that, with the necessary health measures and capacity restrictions, this 2021 we will be able to have a much more community-based St. George's Day than last year. Obviously, there will be no crowds in Catalonia's promenades, avenues or squares, or crowds of people queueing for autographs, but there'll still be all kinds of events and initiatives - many of them online - to help provide at least some festive spirit to the celebration. I'm a total optimist, and I think that, after the damage caused by the pandemic to the field of culture, we will be more responsible in the way we consume culture, because we will appreciate the importance of things that we've been unable to experience normally for a long time, such as book presentations, conferences, bookshops, theatre shows, the cinema and concerts.

They say that people have been reading more since lockdown. What do you think?

The study carried out by the Gremi d'Editors (Publishers' Association) on the Spanish population's reading habits does indeed suggest that reading in Spain has reached historic highs: 57% of people read for an average of almost eight and a half hours a week, a very encouraging figure. In fact, the gradual increase in reading started ten years ago, when the percentage of regular readers reached a worrying 45%. However, the media, social media, libraries, schools and universities must all work constantly to maintain people's interest in reading. And, while we're dreaming, this should ideally be a type of reading that is not just for entertainment but also for enrichment.

Paper will always be paper. But audiobooks, e-books... they're all gaining ground. 

According to the statistics, during lockdown and the restrictions on travel, purchases of audiobooks and e-books in Spain rose significantly (up to 140% and 250% respectively in the first few weeks of lockdown!). Those of us who have been working as teachers in the field of philology and digital publishing for some time know that the digital format in the world of publishing is - to a greater or lesser extent - here to stay. Our mistake is thinking of the coexistence between paper books - which, fortunately, I'm sure we will always have - and e-books as a battle. They each provide their advantages at different times and in different situations: one of them provides a more emotional bond, according to experts; and the other provides clear searching, portability and storage abilities. What really matters is that, as we do in the UOC's Master's Degree in Digital Publishing and the post-graduate courses deriving from it, people working in the world of books are well trained to work effectively in the world of publishing, whether digitally or on paper, to ensure quality publications.

What have we got out of this literature that we have been reaching out for during these uncertain times?

There are probably as many answers to this question as there are readers. In my opinion, as part of the field of knowledge or sapience (from sapere, where the Catalan words for tasting and savouring come from), literature has helped us cope with the inevitable uncertainty of life with greater calmness, from our own internal worlds.

Are readers made by nature? Or by nurture?

Undoubtedly by nurture. If people’s homes, classrooms, libraries, the underground, town squares, the media... all contain books, if people talk about books, swap them and recommend them, people will read more. Parents naturally play a very important role: reading together - not just when children are very young but also as teenagers - and having books available for them to choose from and look through are key to stimulating reading and encouraging the reading habit. This would be the best national plan to encourage reading!

And a more personal question: does Roger write and receive letters? 

I love receiving letters, and writing them if I can. But the truth is that it's hardly ever happened in the last few years. I try to write letters at special times in the lives of the people I love. I still think that letters, like many other creative texts, retain that previous silence, the need to stop the hectic pace of everyday life that enables us to become aware, to say, build and create rather than just communicate.

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