Reading giver applications is a genuine joy. Sure, you sit down and look at the spreadsheet and realise that there are less words in War and Peace than there are in front of you and you'll be reading them for days and days and days, pretty much till your eyes give out. And you have to make serious decisions about whether people can take part. And it really means something to the people who've applied which adds a whole load more pressure. But reading through them and seeing how much reading means to people and how much they want to share that with others is an incredible privilege. Then occasionally you stumble across a truly incredible application, like this, and you just have to share it.
"A few years ago, I was given a WBN book. I didn't read very regularly - and didn't read at all because I wanted to. After being given the WBN book, my curiosity and imagination was sparked, and ever since I have been addicted to reading. First it was a small bookcase, now I have piles of books all ...around my bedroom (and overflowing into other rooms of the house - much to my parents annoyance!). I want to share this love of reading with other people, and hope that if I can spread it to just one person, hopefully they can do the same to someone else in the future. I was a giver last year, and have got many of my friends hooked on Patrick Ness and other writers, and even made a new friend because of WBN! Hopefully I can replicate this again this year!"
- Jack, 18,
It's been more than 6 months since our last blog post.
What started as a brief breather from blogging turned into much longer than we expected as we started talking to The Reading Agency about becoming part of them and got very focused on a full evaluation of World Book Night's three years and what we were going to do next. Then we just got bound up with planning and launch and everything that goes in to making World Book Night happen behind the scenes and we just didn't turn it back on. And you know when you've put off doing something and sometimes it seems easier to keep putting it off than actually do something about it. Well basically that happened.
But we're putting that behind us, putting the blog back on. You can expect to read snippets of news about WBN, books and other literacy and reading for pleasure programmes as well as lots of stories of giving and receiving books. And pretty much our views on everything to do with books and reading.
A friend asked me to recommend a book the other day and just as I was about to suggest a half dozen she added ‘I don’t like them to be about love’. I have to admit I faltered, and I’m not usually lost for book recommendations. If you take the view that really most of life itself is about love then it becomes difficult to produce fiction that doesn’t feature it in some way. Even James Bond is cursed with the pursuit of it alongside serving Queen and Country and playing baccarat.
Philippa Gregory’s The White Queen, which the BBC have just adapted for a 10 hour drama starting this Sunday, is a case in point. It’s about the War of the Roses but it’s told through the eyes of some of the principal women, starting with Elizabeth Woodville, a Lancastrian noble woman, who Edward IV, the Yorkist King married for love. And though the women who tell this tale don’t actually go to battle with armour and swords, there’s enough politicking, intrigue, war and, yes, love going on in court and bedchamber that actual battles serve merely as a distraction.
If you’d asked me a couple of years ago about my tastes in reading I’d have been as dismissive of historical fiction as my friend was books about love. I’d studied a lot of history (and a lot of literature) and a few bad experiences as a teen in the genre convinced me that my two favourite subjects did not go together – a prejudice I maintained till Hilary Mantel firmly disavowed me of it. But Wolf Hall and its sequels may be as far as I’d have gone if World Book Night hadn’t forced me to try The White Queen.
I started it with all those prejudices weighing on me and a presumption that it was reading for duty rather than fun - oh noble me! I was sure it would be perfectly fine reading, but equally sure that I wasn't going to be blown away by it. But as quickly as Edward becomes entranced with Elizabeth, I became entranced with the book. It was all just so luscious and perfectly detailed and real – like life, not like ‘history’ – and I raced through it completely and utterly gripped (and then read the next in the series too!). And that’s the secret to great historical fiction (as it is to be honest to a lot of fiction generally), the characters have to dance from the page because a good quantity of your readers know both where the plot’s going and how you’re going to get there and its only the characters and the richness of the tapestry that keep them reading. Because Elizabeth and Edward are presented so believably and, dare I say it, modernly I wanted to know how the course of history bore on them as people. (And as a side note it’s always fascinating, particularly post the king in the car park, to see another interpretation of the man who would become the legend of Richard III). The fact that the plot is looking after itself is also, arguably, what can elevate historical fiction, most writers spend a good quantity of time working out their plot but when history has taken care of that for you, a writer can spend that much more time on detail and character.
Now I’ve not only devoured Philippa Gregory but fallen in love with all manner of other books I’d once have not bothered with, like Madeleine Miller’s Song of Achilles which I glossed over when it won the Orange Prize but I now can’t stop pressing on people. And like many I live in agonised anticipation of reading Cromwell’s final chapter when The Mirror and the Light is published (probably) in 2015.
The clips the BBC have released of The White Queen crackle with sexual tension and I’m rather hoping it will be some sort of blissful cross between Game of Thrones and classic Pride and Prejudice-esque BBC costume drama, all poise and dignity on the surface and stirring passions beneath. Either way it leaves me hugely excited at the hope of how many people might not want to wait 10 weeks to get to the end and dive into the books to lose themselves a little in some damn good stories.
And it makes me excited about what else I might have missed and have still to enjoy, blinded by what I think I do or don’t like reading and absolutely determined to feed Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You to my friend and prove her wrong about books about love.
A story about giving in the gym (again)
"WBN came and went in a flash. I thought long and hard about the possible places of distribution but alas, my experience last year coloured my decision and I found myself, yet again, opting for the gym!
So, again, I lugged my 20 books to this place dominated in the evenings by muscle-bound, sweaty, smelly, macho sorts whose prime aim in life is to pump iron, admire themselves in the mirrors surrounding their over-sized bodies and convince themselves that all that really matters in life is the size of one's biceps and the broadness of one's shoulders.
Many remember me as the tiny lady from planet weirdness where books are kings and power lies in pages. They all recalled being presented with "The Room" last year and immediately reiterated their fascination with the captivating story-comments which were repeated to me throughout the year since the last WBN. What did I have to offer them this year? Well, I replied, another story which would fascinate, move, entrance and leave them in tears.
This was just the sort of challenge these supposed iron men needed, and all clambered for a copy of "Me Before You." I have yet to receive feedback from this group of softies, but I bet they will love the novel, want to analyse it with me and await next year's offering. I have these giants in the palm of my hand but more importantly, they are interested in reading and empowered by the opportunities that WBN presents them with. What a great invention this fantastic idea is and what great fun it has given me to be able to spread the love of reading amongst men who realise that there is life beyond weights!!"
Giving The White Queen to non-reading mums
"Dear world book night you made my dreams come true! Thank you all so much for letting me give out the white queen. I had such a fantastic day, and thanks to you there are lots of very happy people in my home town, I gave my books away around my local estate. And after convincing some mums to put down their phones and give reading a try instead of social networking, over a cup of tea they took my books and said they would give them a try, but not to expect to much as they could not give a lot of time to read a book, as the last time they read one was at school
A week later and I saw 2 of the young mums, and they recognised me as the book girl and said to me that they found the book took less time than they thought to get into, and it was really great and they had been discussing it!!!!! And they both had started to think of reading as fun!!!! That's all down to you giving me the books to share it really was an honour thank you keep spreading the joy x x x x x x xx"
So, we chose the books, we printed 500,000 of them and then distributed them to 20,000 individuals and 1200 institutions. On Tuesday April 23 they were given out to those who don't regularly read all over the country to spread the joy and love of reading.
But that's nowhere near where their - or our - story stops.
We now begin the really important work - evaluating what happened on the night, where and to whom the books actually went and how what we've done is impacting on people's lives.
But most of all we do still just really want to say thank you to everyone who came together to make World Book Night happen. It is the most amazing collaboration of people who love and know how important books and reading is, from the authors and publishers to booksellers and librarians and ultimately you, the readers. It is our enormous privilige to be able to work with you all to deliver the power and joy of reading to new people.
Oh, and we're launching a book club on May 1 to highlight each month the one book we've absolutely fallen for and think everyone should be reading. First up is The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and if you want a little teaser of it you can see Graeme reading from it at our London event this year.
A story of Giving in a shopping centre in Acton for the second year in a row by Sara Nathan
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.