“A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone,” he declares at one point, and it’s a motto that the Edinburgh International Book Festival should have emblazoned all over Charlotte Square - even before Game of Thrones author George RR Martin comes calling on 11 August.
This year, with September’s referendum looking, there’s a greater need than ever for sharper minds than ever, free of both sentimental guff and imperial baggage. Unlike Jonathan Mills’s indyref-free programme, Nick Barley’s covers all the angles.
Inevitably, attention will be focussed on the big-name writers, especially those who haven’t been here before, or only rarely. On that score, with Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami making his first visit to Charlotte Square, and Martin Amis his first since the inaugural book festival in Edinburgh in 1983, and welcome returns by Germaine Greer, Richard Dawkins, Rowan Williams, Simon Schama, Lydia Davis, Jung Chang, Billy Collins and Joseph Stiglitz, this is easily the strongest line-up of Barley’s five-year tenure and could well be one of the best ever.
The programme is firing on all cylinders. The First World War strand could hardly be more comprehensive. Guest selector Raja Shehadeh will be bringing the biggest ever selection of Middle East writer to Edinburgh. The children’s programme has everyone from Frank Cottrell Boyce to the wonderful Judith Kerr.
The festival has commissioned its own intriguing-sounding performance piece as well as a graphic novel set in a future Scotland, and is building on last year’s successful reader’s workshops, so there is no shortage of innovation.
On top of all that, a varied programme of graphic fiction and non-fiction, along with multi-million-selling authors such as Diana Gabaldon and George RR Martin himself should bring in readers somewhat younger than the August average in Charlotte Square. The whetstone has just started spinning. If you want to sharpen your mind, there’s only one place in town.