Give World Book Night a Chance

It’s a little earnest, this post, but heartfelt, nonetheless.

Three weeks ago I was delighted to learn my application to be a World Book Night giver had been successful.

I’ve copied below the text I understood to be the essence of WBN, which all donors were asked to read before they undertook to be a giver and I’ve underlined the section I considered most relevant as I filed my application and stated why I’d like to be part of this big giveaway.

From today, 2 December 2010, members of the public are invited to apply to be one of the 20,000 givers of 48 copies of their favourite book chosen from a carefully selected list of 25 titles. Most givers are expected to be passionate readers who will take pleasure in recommending a book they love to other readers. However, World Book Night will also encourage givers to pass the books on to others who either may be reluctant readers or who are part of communities with less access to books, bookshops and libraries. 960,000 books will be distributed by givers and a further 40,000 will be distributed by WBN to people who might not otherwise be able to participate.

I stated in my “pitch” to the organisers (every potential WBN giver had to do this) that I wanted to give my books to refugees and/or asylum seekers living in my locality. Buying new books, for me, is better than any other form of shopping – clothes, food, shoes, jewellery, anything – and anyone giving me a book for my birthday will be elevated in my estimation – regardless of the book, regardless of the content, regardless, even, of whether or not I already have a copy on my increasingly groaning bookshelves. I hoped to pass on or renew that yet-to-be-read anticipation to people who might love reading but for whom a new book is, or has become, a luxury or to people for whom reading is a forgotten or undiscovered pleasure. I recognise the loss of reading material would have been the least of their worries as they fled from war, famine or persecution, but while sanctuary, food and shelter are primary needs, friendship and understanding are fundamental to well-being and books are gifts of the heart. Without wishing to appear patronising, ignorant or seeking to stereotype, books are an opportunity to escape real world troubles and slip into another place, even if it’s only for a chapter or two.

To be honest, I was dismayed to learn that some givers are viewing March 5th 2011 as an occasion to treat their mates to a freebie. As far as I understood it, World Book Night was never about giving readers a chance to donate the books they were allocated to readers who could easily buy their own copies and who may already support writers and booksellers. There have been some gloom-mongers, sellers and writers alike, who have moaned about WBN being a blow to book sales, but you could just as easily go and picket your local secondhand book shop or village fete book stall for all the same reasons. Or do writers receive a second royalty on a £1 book bought on a hot summer’s day by a sandalled reader slurping on a £2 ice-cream? Given Susan Hill‘s recent rants, I suspect not.

In line with my original pitch and the news that I’d been selected as a giver, I’ve been in touch with relevant Oxford charities to find suitable places to donate my 48 copies of Sarah Waters‘s brilliant writing. Whilst being sensitive about the content of Fingersmith, it’s less graphic, in my opinion, than say, The Finkler Question and less disturbing than Never Let Me Go.

I’m hopeful that someone enlightened is administrating these charities, someone who will see 48 free books for their group as a gift of friendship from a sincere book lover to a recipient (or 48) who would get a great deal of pleasure from the gift. I want these books to go to people who would not, in their current circumstance, walk into their local bookshop and buy a brand-new, world-class novel. Perhaps their uncertain status means they can’t yet join a library, perhaps they don’t have the money to buy books, new or secondhand, perhaps they don’t have the confidence to try – perhaps though, they’d really like to.

I’m hopeful that in future years, when those same recipients are settled here (assuming their cases are approved) and have become part of our society, one that has, over many centuries, been created from different cultures, races, creeds and religions, that they will have their own book collections, will be members of their local library and will be buying and passing on books themselves.

That’s not to discount the pleasure a middle class, middle income reader would get from the gift of a World Book Night book. But giving to the converted was never part of this deal, I thought. Encouraging a whole new community of readers was always at its heart.

Oxford Women’s Festival

Simple Acts

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