It’s been almost a week since the hype surrounding World Book Night reached its crescendo, as 20,000 givers prepared to hand out 1 million books across the UK. On the Friday before the book giving commenced, book givers received a welcome, appreciative email from Jamie Byng, Chair of World Book Night:
From the moment this wildly ambitious project to celebrate writing and reading on one night was conceived, it was the passion of readers that we always knew was going to lie at its very heart. IF it is a success, it is going to be down to the personal passion of the givers who are sharing their love for a book with hundreds of thousands of people across the country.
I signed up to become a World Book Night giver in December, choosing to giveaway The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. With impending library closure and the general downturn trend in book buying, promoting reading seemed like a perfectly good idea. Yet, the idea quickly attracted critics like Vanessa Robertson, owner of the Edinburgh Bookshop, who called the idea ‘misguided and misjudged’. She suggested that it would ‘flood the market with free books and devalue the work of authors in the eyes of the public’. Seriously, what a load of nonsense.
However, this attack on the book-giving event was a clever one; it hit us faithful book lovers where it hurt. It was no-ones intention to ‘flood the market’ or ‘devalue’ writing and so givers (myself included) frantically scrambled to come up with even more ingenious ideas, so that we looked as though not only did we want to spread the joy of reading, we now wanted to appease every critic and independent bookseller in the land. As more elaborate, fan-dangled book giving plans emerged, I regret being pressured into coming up with my own explicitly-book-industry-friendly plan.
For me, giving someone in the street a free book, or a fellow book lover for that matter, would neither ‘devalue’ writing or stop people from buying books. It could only trigger a positive ripple in the industry, whereby World Book Night recipients would not only be more likely to consider buying another book, but they would talk about books
Nevertheless, I succumbed, and one week before World Book Night on 5th March, I emailed a lengthy list of independent booksellers in Glasgow and Edinburgh (including the Edinburgh Bookshop), asking if they would like to be included in a flyer that I was planning to give away with my World Book Night books. I received just three responses to over fifteen emails.
In an effort to avoid the pressure of turning World Book Night into something that it wasn’t supposed to be, I went for a non-prescriptive approach to my book giving:
- In a gave TEN books away to people who read my blog (because it’s also about people who DO spend money buying books)
- I also gave away FIVE to followers on Twitter.
- The rest… well I handed them out to people in cafes, libraries, queues and bus stops. Random acts of kindness that were very much appreciated.
And, I thoroughly enjoyed it! In each book, I included a mini Little Interpretations bookmark that I had specially printed (each bookmark had a different quote from The Prime of Miss jean Brodie on it!), as well as a flyer with the details of local independent book sellers on it. I also won a World Book Night book myself, The Life of Pi, via The Book Whisperer (thanks!).
In an effort to make World Book Night a WORLDWIDE event, not limited only to the UK, I posted books to the USA, The Netherlands and as far afield as Japan. And it was this aspect of World Book Night that was most rewarding to me.