Tuesday, 24 April 2012

World Book Night 2012

Yesterday I took part in World Book Night.

Leaping on the success of World Book Day, (where every child in full-time education is entitled to a book voucher that they can swap for a specially produced World Book Day book), World Book Night attempts to distribute one million free books to adults across the UK, targeting members of the non-reading public, as well as those who have little access to books, via prisons, care homes, hospitals, sheltered housing, and homeless shelters.

To reach members of the public, World Book Night relies on 20,000 volunteers, chosen from a much larger community of passionate readers, who apply to become World Book Night Givers.

Givers are supplied with 24 specially bound copies of one of World Book Night's 25 selected titles, a book that they've read and love, and want to share with others.

Each WBN book is bound in white with a central photograph of the actual book cover, and with information about World Book Night printed on the front and back cover, and inside. Each book also contains one of Shakespeare's sonnets, each specially selected to match the plot and atmosphere of the book, in honour of April 23rd being both Shakespeare's birthday and the day he died.

The first page of each book is a book-plate, where the giver fills in their name, where they collected their books from (of the many bookshops and libraries that participated), and an individual reference number for each copy, so that its journey can be tracked.

My title was The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger - a book that I am still in love with.

And then comes the giving out.

When World Book Night Givers sign up, they agree that they will try to distribute their books to non-readers or light-readers, not just to other bookworms and bibliophiles. Some people give books to colleagues or friends. Some leave them in public spaces where they will be found: on trains or in coffee shops. The braver givers approach people directly on the street and offer them a free book.

Yesterday, I was brave.

With the help of my partner P, we set up outside the local Jobcentre, huddled under an umbrella with our bags of books in the pouring rain. The Jobcentre was P's idea when I was submitting my application: somewhere local and accessible, and where people in need of books gather!

I gave my first book to the lovely chap who runs our local shop. He was very pleased, and when I popped back in for milk, later in the day, he had already started to read the book and told me that he was enjoying it.

My second book was to the woman buying her groceries at the counter, who had heard the words 'free book' and was looking at my stack of books with desire in her eyes. She may or may not have been a reader, but I let her have a copy!

And then I started approaching people directly.

Some of the people I approached were the kind I would usually avoid out of fear: young men, hooded and tattooed, exiting the Jobcentre scowling. 

I was a little scared, and anticipating some rudeness.

Instead, I was pleasantly surprised.

No one was rude. A few people ignored me, or politely declined.

But most people listened to my explanation, said that they'd give the book a go, and accepted it gratefully. I got lots of smiles and thank yous, and I think I truly brightened some people's day.

My approach was simple. I just asked "Can I give you a free book?" and explained that "An organisation called World Book Night is giving out a million free books today." I also asked them "Do you read much?" Most of them said 'no, or 'a little'. "Well the idea of this is to get people into reading/to read more."

And it was that simple. People smiled and took a book.

I could have stood there all day, but all of my books were gone within an hour!

There were a couple of sad moments: a young man who said he couldn't read at all, and who rushed off before I could discuss literacy with him (there are many similar stories from World Book Night Givers); and a chap who was dyslexic and said he could only read books for 3-year-olds. I wonder if he could read at a higher level, given the right kind of support? These are the very people who need the most support, and I have raised these issues with World Book Night, and hopefully they will be addressed by next year.

Being part of the book-giving community across the world has made me feel really connected, part of something special. Labelling my books the night before, I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve. The same sense of anticipation and excitement. The whole experience of being a World Book Night Giver has been just wonderful, and I really hope that I get chosen again, next year.

I finished the day on theme: reading poetry by candlelight with a group of friends. We read Blake, Tennyson, Shakespeare, Adrienne Rich, Ted Hughes, Edward Lear, Dylan Thomas, and Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.

Poetry doesn't have to be sensible. And books really should be for everyone.

My World Book Night books, getting ready to meet the world!

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