I thought I’d share my World Book Night experience:
What a difference a year makes. Last year I was giving “Small Island” in the Oaks shopping centre in Acton, West London. This is not a place where literacy looms large: it’s ripe for redevelopment and features a Netto and several pound stores. This year it’s no better but some passing shoppers have actually heard of World Book Night. A couple of responses of: “oh, yes please, I saw it on the telly” and slightly less bemusement at a bonkers, middle-aged woman trying to give total strangers books for free.
This year I chose to give “The Reader” which is about how not being able to read, as an adult, can wreck your life. I chose this book because last year I met R who said she couldn’t take my book because she couldn’t read or write at all. She was so sad about it and so determined to learn that I agreed we would find her a course and that, after a year, I would give her a WBN book of her own. Last year, it was a chance encounter in a grim shopping centre. This year we met in a local cafe, as we have every couple of months since she started her classes at the local college. She can’t read “The Reader” yet but she has made progress. She attends college at least twice a week and does homework in between. But it transpires she had a head injury as a child which may have affected her ability to read, so it is a struggle. We read the first pages together. She will get there.
I suppose giving a book like this would bring out other stories. One young woman, keen to chat, told me her partner is illiterate and terribly embarrassed about it. She’d like him to go on a course but, like R, finds there is very little provision for learning to read and write as an adult – it tends to get mixed in with learning English as a Foreign Language when, actually, it’s quite different. She reads quite a bit herself, though she’s struggled with dyslexia, and is totally determined that her two boys would grow up to be keen on books. She reads to them every night even though the older is now progressing through Harry Potter. At the other end of the reading scale, I’d already pressed a copy into the hands of a chatty lady before she told me she used to own and run a nearby Christian bookshop. She offered to give it back because she said she felt undeserving, but that seemed a bit cruel. And she balanced the passing woman whose response to my cheery “do you like to read?” was a baleful look and “NO – only the Bible” as she rushed past my sinful offering.
The other change from last year is that, in the meantime, I have set up a book swap at Acton Central station: three shelves with an ever-changing rotation of all sorts of books. Poetry and children’s go like hot cakes. Stray volumes of the Encyclopaedia Britannica and old psychology journals in German do not. No-one has donated “Fifty Shades of Grey” yet but we’ve had all sorts of fact and fiction in a whole range of languages. I started it last summer because we were on the line to the Olympics at Stratford and I thought people might appreciate something to read. Now it’s really embedded; supported and enjoyed by the community. But it could always do with more readers and more books. So whenever I gave “The Reader” to someone who wanted to talk, I could tell them about the book swap and how it works. Quite a few recipients were really interested and promised to visit – once they’d finished their new book. Reading isn’t just for World Book Night but the whole year.
Well, WBN 2013 did not go to plan. I had planned to give my book away on my street, by leafleting people and holding a book stall on the day itself, when I would also give away those of my own books I am realistically not going to read again. Plans changed when I was allocated Last Night Another Soldier by Andy McNab, a Quick Read specially written and produced for adult learning to read. To me, this did not seem the best book to choose for the proposed event. So, I decided to link up with adult education providers and to donate the books at one of their centres. This was the start of my education, and a rather unhappy journey at times.
First of all, it was very hard to find out what provision there was for adult education and adult literacy in my area. And then it was even harder to realise that much of this provision had been closed down or moved from dedicated adult and community education providers to job centres. It was especially depressing when a local library, based on a council estate in a very deprived area of town, could not give me any information about where adult literacy classes were taking place. But worse was to come ... I was advised that adult education provision, and adult literacy and numeracy, had held up better in a neighbouring borough. They even had a book group for adult literacy learners. However, when I phoned the organisers I received a very polite, but curt, refusal. They had plenty of WBN books to choose from, as the borough library had promoted WBN and several librarians had been succesful. And my WBN book would not be of interest to or suitable for the group.
I was so shocked by this response that I forgot to ask why ... The next group I was put in touch with - a book group for adults with physical and learning disabilities which reads only Quick Reads - were delighted to be part of WBN but their organiser's face fell when she learnt what the book would be. Too male. Too much gore and war. She didn't think the group, especially the women in the group, would like it. I sympathised. I hold that awkward liberal ground of opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but empathy and support for the soldiers fighting them. Before I moved to the North East, which is a traditional recruiting ground for the army, I didn't have the empathy. I had never known anyone in the forces, let alone seen the devastation which is caused when someone dies on active service.
So, 20 books to give away that nobody seemed to want. I was getting rather cross with adult literacy educators who were acting as cultural gatekeepers, so it was a relief to finally talk to one who admitted that it would not be their first choice of a book to read but that was not to say it wouldn't appeal to the students.
I visited two providers: one in my town centre, linked to a religious charity, and one in the neighbouring borough, at a dedicated adult education centre. In both, the student group was very diverse: men and women of different ages from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The books were donated to the groups rather than individuals, as there would not have been enough to go round otherwise. There was lively discussion about WBN, interest that Andy McNab himself had attended adult education classes when he left the army and some discussion about whether this was a man's book or not; and whether it mattered if it was. There was the same puzzled delight that the books were free I associate with each WBN. There was also real curiousity about being a giver. The adult education centre organiser suggested that some of the students might want to apply to be givers in 2014 and that we could organise a reading evening event at the centre for local residents.
I have also undertaken to buy a Quick Read set of books chosen by the Book Group for people with physical and learning disabilities and to visit and discuss it with them.
So, in the end, everything worked out well but I did have moments of wondering whether I might have to return the books ..... Thankfully, that didn't happen and I think some good connections to encourage reading were made as a result of WBN 13.
A story to remember that not all givers have quite the experience they hoped for...
Dear World Book Night,
You can't imagine how thrilled I was to take part in this celebration of books and reading. I felt mountain goosebumps poking out my sleeves when I collected the 20 copies of Judge Dredd. This is such a beautifully illustrated, if somewhat gruesome, classic comic series that many people admire and some collect obsessively. For this reason, I was anticipating a good reception; I imagined a stream of receivers queing at the chance to be given a free copy in this handsome special edition. I was worried I would not have enough books to go around and some people would be left disappointed.
It was a real shock to me that my real experience of book-giving was a bit of a crazy ride. It quickly went from some easy, pleasant initial contacts, to hostile rejection, finally reaching a disastrous conclusion.
My target receivers were younger men who lived to the north of where I live, in a rather deprived area of Bristol. Being on a low wage myself, I normally shop at a large discount supermarket there. Unemployment rates in this neighbourhood are rather high, and loitering a common activity; a few groups of people, mainly men, use the front entrance of the library to gather in the evenings and have a relaxed chat, drinking socially. The library and supermarket are areas where a few people tend to collect naturally, so that's where I headed.
Even though I personally liked other titles in the list better, I chose this particular one because I assumed would be closer to what people who don't normally read would consider fun and approachable; the fantastic/superhero subject matter seemed to go with current trends in cinema and video games, and -I was hoping- it would make people feel it didn't have to be a chore to read through. Full disclosure: I have many friends who will refuse to pick up a regular novel, claiming no time to spare, but will very gladly take on reading a beast of a graphic novel or a long, never-ending comic series.
The evening started really well, I thought. I gave the first 3 books to three younger people who were standing near my bus stop and who said they would be happy to read the book and access the web page to leave feedback on it, maybe even pass it on - I could see in their eyes, however, that they were already becoming attached to their copies.
I gave the 4th book to the bus driver of my regular line who always looks unhappy, worn out, and saw him smile widely for the first time. When I looked back he was still stopped leafing through the book, a bunch of puzzled passengers aboard.
I â€œofficiallyâ€ started my World Book Night event by standing by the supermarket door and offering the books to people walking past me. I have to admit I was feeling very nervous and out of place. After all, this is a hard area with hard to reach people, and nobody gives you anything for free, right? So where's the catch?
A couple of men picked up my books: one reacted happily on seeing the cover, so I assumed he knew the series; Another one was a young man who seemed to be supported to do his shopping. I am quite sure he had a learning difficulty or mental health condition, so was personally thrilled to give a book to him, since this is the client group I support at work and had wrongly assumed none would be interested. I had initially approached his companion, who was walking a few steps ahead, and who refused my book; she had to laugh out loud when the man suddenly shouted from inside the shop 'Yeah I'll have it! I love books!'.
From then on, all I got were rejections. Most people would stop and listen, then look at the book cover and physically recoil. Most men were keen to talk to me, while women invariably walked past very fast and avoided eye contact. A man scrunched his face when he saw the book, then did a double take when I said 'do you know the Judge Dredd comics?'. I have the feeling that the title and cover illustration gave the book a slight appearance of it being a religious publication. This is just conjecture, of course, but most people's reactions seemed to be in this vein. I have to admit this was a thought that went through my head as I opened the box of books.
I tried a local chippy to no success and a few smirks, then the library entrance steps, where a group of mostly men were gathering. They looked truly amused by my approaching them and one picked up four of my books diligently and said 'I'll pass them around', following on with what seemed to be a mockery of a teacher handing out materials at a lesson. The others laughed. The only lady in the group refused by saying 'I wouldn't have space to keep it'. As I walked away, I heard a dumping noise, laughter and a loud comment, and saw that the man had dropped the books to the floor by a rubbish bag. I smiled and shrugged.
I went back to the spot when they were gone, hoping to recover the books, only to find out that they had actually taken them away.
I am sorry to say that I was feeling a bit defeated at that point, so my last receiver was the nice till attendant at the supermarket where I ended up doing my shopping. I explained nobody wanted to take my books and she agreed to take two, 'one for my friend'.
I still have 7 books ungiven. I have pledged to do my bit, so I will find readers even if it's not on World Book Night. So sorry about this. I have contacted several friends who work with vulnerable young adults, who will hopefully help me distribute the rest of the books around. I will post some more feedback to let you know how it's gone.
I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for the opportunity to participate in this stunning project. My belief in the power of reading remains untainted. I am sure some of those who reluctantly took my books will secretly enjoy them and, who knows, maybe they will go back to the library for an extra dose.
So, this is the first year that I've done WBN and trying to remember what I put on my form when I applied was difficult. So I started brainstorming places that I could go.
My first thought was the beauty salon/spa that I worked out as the book I had allocated to me was "The Island" by Victoria Hislop which I thought would go down really in a female dominated environment. But then I thought, I knew too many clients and I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.
Eventually I settled on going to the Cancer Unit at Glan Clwyd Hospital in North Wales. I wanted to go to where the patients were having chemotherapy as well as those in the waiting rooms. So many women gave me such genuine smiles and were delighted at having a free book, asking me about World Book Night, the book etc. One lady even told me she had seen someone doing something similar on a train a few years ago.
When I went downstairs to the waiting room, there were more men then woman and it surprised how many of the males would not take my book. I know I said I class it more as a female book, but that is only because the protagonists are female as in actual fact I do know a couple of men who have read this particular book. I tried to persuade the men to take one, but they wouldn't, I have 5 men one after another say no, and I only think it's because they were just acting like sheep. One gentleman wouldn't even let me open my mouth to speak before he shook his head.
This though, had made me more determined.
Next year I'm going to apply, pick a more masculine book and go to a male dominated area where I'll 'force' the books onto them! Don't get me wrong, I've made 20 sets of people happy through your generosity and my little bit of effort, some who said they'd pass their book along. But WBN made me think, men and women should both enjoy books to the same degree.
I am a keen reader and mainly access books through the RNIB's talking book service. Prior to my sight loss I enjoyed reading printed books, but when I could no longer see print I did not want to read for pleasure using alternative formats. Sounds totally stupid now, but I had never enjoyed listening to books and I couldn't see why I would now, because I had to. Luckily, a rehab worker from the RNIB persuaded me to try the talking book service and I found myself loving reading again! The books are really well read and the service is great. Ten years on, and I enjoy reading as much as ever so I put myself forward to be a volunteer giver to share my passion with others.
World Book Night is about giving books away and encouraging reading to those who may not read much. The RNIB's involvement adds another objective, which is to promote the importance of accessible reading for people with sight loss and the work of the RNIB.
As part of World Book Night I committed to giving away fifteen copies of, Little Face by Sophie Hannah. At first I wasn't too sure who I was going to give them to. I could easily give them to friends and family, some of whom are not readers, but I thought that was a bit too easy. Instead, I arranged to go out for a pizza and distribute them as I saw fit along the way.
My first give-away was to our waiter. I left the CD with the tip and left it to set off on its journey. I then walked the two miles home with my friend with the intention of arriving home empty handed. I gave the audio book to bar staff, theatre goers, strangers in a bus stop, a doorman, a parking attendant, drinkers having a smoke outside pubs and a random person walking down the street!
My friend commented that it could be a psychology project for someone as the reactions were really interesting. Some people were keen and happy to take one while others were very sceptical. I think the fact that the book was on a CD threw people, which is good as it raises awareness of alternative ways of reading. Some of the people who weren't initially interested because they don't read became interested when they learned it was on a CD. Some of these people took a copy and felt much better about reading if they could listen to the book. The idea of World Book Night is to share the joy of reading and for some of the people I met, reading an audio book was their preferred format too!
I wasn't too confident at first approaching people to give the book away but very quickly I was happy to go up to people and tell them about World Book Night and the RNIB's involvement. I like to think the CDs will be listened to and passed on and will take on their own journeys - reaching more than the fifteen people I handed the book to.
I gave 14 of my books away (Casino Royale by Ian Fleming)in an hour and a half this morning, on the main road near the Job Centre at Connah's Quay, North Wales. The people who accepted books were delighted with them, and interested to hear about World Book Night. One man said he had not read a book for years, but fondly remembered enjoying trips to the library when he was a young boy. He was looking forward to trying "Casino Royale." I was surprised at the number of people who said, "We don't do reading in our house!" One lady said that she couldn't read, but encouraged her husband to take a copy. The book seemed to appeal to all ages. One man asked me what I was getting out of it, and I said, just the pleasure of sharing my love of reading! I found it quite hard to approach complete strangers on the street at first, and was surprised how many people refused to take copies, but the pleasure on the faces of those people who did accept copies really made up for any negative reactions.
I gave two copies away yesterday to boys I have helped with GCSE English, who persevered despite finding it difficult - both of them were James Bond fans. I put the book in an envelope for one of them, with the message: "You've seen the films..." on the outside, and then a note on the inside attached to the book saying "Now try the book!" His mum texted me later to say he was thrilled, because he had been at the hospital when I delivered the book to his house, and had broken his toe, meaning he had to take time off from his much loved gymnastics, so receiving the book really cheered him up.
After being made redundant from teaching, being a World Book Night giver encouraged me to take a job as a library assistant, which enabled me to share my love of reading with people of all ages. One of my books is destined for the son of one of my book group members, who is apparently a reluctant reader, but likes James Bond. I gave another to a young man who visits the library regularly to use the computers, but does not borrows books - he seemed pleased to receive it. Two other books are going to people who are ill, who also have teen/young adult children who don't do much reading.
Once again World Book Night has been very enjoyable for me as a giver. I hope I will be lucky enough to be picked as a giver again next year.