World Book Night

As promised, I have a lot to say, and the topic of today’s post cannot possibly wait until I have more time/less on my list of things to do/have solidifed my own opinions.

As you may or may not know, yesterday was World Book Day. I was interested, but not surprised, to read that my friend Sean (an English teacher no less) did not realise until he saw the deluge of tweets declaring it was so (I know this because he talks about it in his blog here). It doesn’t surprise me in the least that the National Curriculum doesn’t place more importance on ‘spreading the word’ as it were. I’ve never really quite understood the point of World Book Day, much less noticed it’s arrival until the moment during my school years when our teacher was handing out our £1 vouchers to go and spend in Ottakers. For me, this merely represented a good day at school and I think I still own one of the special £1 books, a collection of famous people and authors discussing their favourite children’s books which I read time and time again. Although I did wonder at the time, why not just give us the books? The number of “vouchers” which never saw the light of day after being thrust into a child’s book bag was probably pretty high.

Which leads me on to World Book Night– ‘the largest book giveaway ever’. If you have the time or the inclination, it’s really worth reading some of the arguments for and against this event, which takes place on Saturday 5th March. Here are some to get you started: world book night fail, alternative to mass giveaway, no writer can ask more than this.

If you haven’t read any of those articles above, the crux of the argument is this: some people think any attempt to get more people reading is a good thing and may encourage them to go out and purchase more books by the same author/in the same genre, whereas others feel that giving away a million free books at a time when the industry is struggling- in no small part due to the cut price offers seen in supermarkets and online- is simply baffling.

At this point, I must come clean- I applied to be a world book night “giver”. I wasn’t initially accepted (maybe my reasoning that ‘I’d like to give away “One Day” to all the graduates I know because hell, we deserve a break’ wasn’t quite what they were going for), but I was placed on the reserve list and later today I will popping across the road to Portswood Library to find out which book I am to hand out to people. I am a massive advocate of books, words, texts, reading, writing, creativity and everything else you would expect an English graduate to be passionate about and although it was this unbridled enthusiasm which led me to get involved, I am concerned about the effect of the event on the industry. I’m still not sure whether I prescribe to Margaret Atwood’s theory that the gift of the written word is beyond the material concerns of those involved

The love of writing, the love of reading – these are huge gifts. To be able to give someone else a book you treasure widens the gift circle.

or her logic that giving away books will push sales

Also: I gave a book by Kate Atkinson away recently and the person I gave it to liked it so much that she bought all the others.

But I am excited about the prospect of giving 48 people the opportunity to get involved in some small way and read something they may otherwise not have read.

Other booksellers are enthusiastically participating, as it spreads the word on books and makes them available to people who would otherwise not have them or be able to afford them.

I can’t help but keep coming back to the thought that if these people [that I hand a book over to tomorrow] would not have purchased this specific book anyway, am I really taking anything away from anyone? Of course, this a narrow, simplistic view of the issue which is spouted constantly by people to justify all kinds of things, such as illegally downloading music and films, but I have to be honest, it’s making me feel better. If we all just enter into the spirit of things and get enthusiastic about books and reading maybe it can give the industry a push after all? What do you think?

(Also, if you aren’t already involved, please consider the alternative to mass giveaway, included above- it’s a really fantastic idea)

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4 Responses to World Book Night

  1. archaism says:

    Indeed, these World Book Events do seem somewhat unclear. While of course I approve of a drive to help more people read, I can’t seem to find myself getting excited about WBN.

    Maybe because it feels like a gimmick. It doesn’t feel like an event; perhaps it should be marked by a series of happenings, rather than a seemingly arbitrary giveaway.

    I don’t think the publishers should bear the cost – it gets in the way of innovation.

    As a counterpoint, this is something that does have me excited about books.

  2. Frances Andrews-Speed says:

    Hi there, I have written repeatedly to World Book Night org. to request the necessary numbers that have to be put inside the books before handing out. I still have 48 copies of All Quiet on The Western Front…to give away…but efforts in contacting WBN have proved fruitless.

    • letssetsail says:

      Hi Frances,

      As you can see from Twitter I have also written, tweeted and called to no avail…until today. I recieved a call this morning informing me that I could have given them out without numbers after all. As I still have the books I was directed to the bookcrossing website which can be used to generate identification numbers. All in all, they don’t seem too bothered by the thought of books being handed out with no traceability- which seems to me to greatly depreciate the value of the whole exercise.

      I hope this helps. Would you be interested in a book swap? I still have 48 copies of The Reluctant Fundamentalist to give away, with or without identification numbers…


  3. Frances Andrews-Speed says:

    I would also like to point out that this is a super idea…in the world of computor books, computor everything. If it encourages one person to read a book then it has achieved its purpose, people love getting something for nothing. Yes of course there are going to be blips (see my earlier email) but the idea is sound and all for the right reasons.

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