Tony Lankester

THE READER: Tony Lankester

The CEO of the National Arts Festival shares the reads that have inspired him

BY ALEXANDER MATTHEWS

Tony Lankester has been CEO of the world-renowned National Arts Festival — the annual cultural and performing arts extravaganza based in Grahamstown — since 2008. Having studied film and TV at Rhodes University, Lankester worked at SAfm for seven years in various roles (including marketing manager and presenter), as well as at Old Mutual where he served as communications manager and sponsorship manager.

What are you reading at the moment?

Michael Lewis’s Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt. It’s a great look at some of the causes of the recent turbulence on the world’s stock markets – it appeals to my geeky side. It’s truly jaw-dropping the extent to which the levels of human greed and dishonesty are so entrenched in the way the markets work.

What book has had the greatest impact on you?

That’s a tough one. Growing up I loved the books of Richard Bach (Illusions and Jonathan Livingstone Seagull) and the poetry of Rod McKuen. In hindsight I can see that they are a bit saccharine and overblown, but at the time I was a pretentious teenager and thought they were life-changing. I could feel the top of my head exploding.

What is your favourite novel of all-time?

William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. It is so deliciously complex and dense that all you can do is wade into it, close your eyes and leap… hoping for a safe landing. As a student I did a course on Gothic novels and I must admit that I loved the course more than anything else I studied – Frankenstein, Dracula, The Monk… all literary gems.  In more recent times, I’m a big fan of Stephen Fry and Bill Bryson.

What were your favourite books as a child?

I read a lot as a child – pretty much anything I could get my hands on. My favourites were, like most kids, the Hardy Boys series, Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree books, and anything by Dr Seuss.

What’s the last book you gave as a gift?

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. I bought it for my wife. She hated it. Vouchers from now on….

What’s the last thing you read that made you laugh?

Bill Bryson’s Neither Here nor There. It’s his best work and is genuinely eye-wateringly funny.

Which book have you never been able to finish?

The Bible but then I haven’t tried that hard. I know how it ends.

I am a prolific non-finisher of books – if I’m not completely engaged by it I stop. Life is too short, and reading time too precious, to spend it reading something because you feel you should or because you hope it is going to get better. It seldom does.

What book do you turn to for advice?

I don’t. I get my advice from flesh-and-blood humans. Books are to expand my mind and take me to places I wouldn’t normally go.

Your favourite magazine?

Vanity Fair, hands down. Long-form journalism is a lost art but VF is keeping the flag flying, and their stories are just so damn good. In the same breath I’d say that anyone who enjoys a good read should check out longform.org – it’s a treasure trove.

What book would you give to the President of South Africa to read?

My Big Fat Gupta Wedding by Zapiro. He needs to learn to laugh at – and hear the truth behind – great satire.

If you could have dinner with a dead writer, who would you dine with and where?

Well, it would be quite an awkward dinner, with them being dead and all. And not much conversation going on. But if he was still alive for the meal, I’d want to have dinner with Ernest Hemingway. I reckon he knew how to have a good time, apart from that whole suicide thing. And it wouldn’t be a dinner – it would be a long, boozy lunch in Havana.

The 40th National Arts Festival will be held in Grahamstown from 3 – 13 July 2014.

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