World Book Night 2011: The ups & the downs

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.

World Book Night blurb
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. Continue reading

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World Book Night Giveaway & Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

There’s something about Brodie! She is perhaps one of the most complex literary characters that I have come across; she is neither likeable (her admiration of Hitler and Mussolini assures this) nor unlikeable, both heroine and villain, controlling, and “held in great suspicion”. But she is also a woman celebrating her “prime”; she’s enchanting, glamorous, obsessed with romantic love and yet aware that “the age of chivalry is past”. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life”, says Brodie early on in the novel. It is this far-reaching and manipulative influence on her selected pupils, the Brodie set, the ‘creme de la creme’, which forms the basis for the story.

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie focuses on schoolmistress Jean Brodie and her Brodie set: Monica Douglas, “famous mostly for mathematics… and for her anger”; Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”; Eunice Gardiner, “famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming”; Sandy Stranger, “notorious for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, but she was famous for her vowel sounds”; Jenny Gray, the “most graceful girl of the set”; and Mary Macgregor, “whose fame rested on her being a silent lump, a nobody whom everybody could blame”. World Boko Night

Admittedly, I didn’t fall in love with any of these characters, yet they all enthralled me. Their comic naivety is their redeeming feature (“Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife.”), but they become increasingly more selfish, shrewd and cliquey under the tutelage of Miss Jean Brodie at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Continue reading