World Book Night, 2012
Just over a year ago, I read about an incredible new UK initiative to encourage people to read: World Book Night.
The idea was simple, as most of the best ideas are: get a bunch of people in the book industry to choose 25 great contemporary books, covering a wide range of themes; get the authors and publishers to agree to print special, World Book Night versions of these books; ask members of the public to give out 24 copies of one of the books to people in their local community, preferably people who don’t tend to read too much.
100% for free.
What is for free these days? you may ask. What’s the catch? You could well be wondering. It seems there isn’t one. WBN is a registered charity with the sole goal of promoting reading in communities.
How could I resist?
Potential book givers are asked to fill in a form saying where they would distribute the books, and which of the 25 books they would like to give out, (most of them chosen from a list voted for by the public, some selected by a panel of professional clever people). 20,000 members of the public are chosen to then give away 48 copies of their book of choice, (or their 2nd or 3rd choice), on April 23rd, resulting in a million books being put in the hands of the public, everywhere from hospitals to pubs to schools. Intriguingly, the books are then expected to wend their merry way around friends and family, tracked all the way with the inclusion of a unique reference number in each copy. This may well explain why so few have shown up in charity shops and second-hand book shops since last April.
(Why April 23rd, I metaphorically hear you ask? Merely the anniversary of the birth of Billy Shakespeare…and of his death, as well as the death of Cervantes, of Quixotic fame. Spooky, huh? No wonder the UN decided to make this date UNESCO World Day of the Book).
Last year, I wasn’t chosen.
I think it may have had something to do with the fact that my application involved giving away copies of the book, (I think I had chosen ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time‘, although it may have been Pullman‘s ‘Northern Lights‘), along with a request for the recipient to make an optional donation to Room to Read, my charity of choice which seemed to fit so perfectly with the event. However, since the goal of WBN is to encourage people to read with free books, I can see how they may have been put off by my proposal.
I’d forgotten I had even applied again this year, but I must have done, because earlier this month I received an email telling me that I had been chosen to give out David Peace‘s wonderful ‘The Damned Utd,’ a brilliantly written slice of football manager Brian Clough’s year managing Leeds Utd, and a book far more about humanity and personality than it is about just football. (Also, one of the few books which resulted in a big screen version almost as good as the paper version, although ‘High Fidelity‘ remains top of my list on that count).
Apparently it was my third choice, the email informed me. Again, I can’t remember what my first two choices were, but scanning through the choices, (and presuming personality to be slightly more consistent than many contemporary neurobiologists think is likely), I imagine they were Audrey Nieffenegger’s fantastic ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife‘ and, from my childhood, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett‘s ‘Good Omens.’
I also don’t remember what yarn I spun to convince them to let me be a book distributor this year, but have a vague recollection that it may have had something to do with going back to my old High School and, if that’s the case, I can’t think of a better book on the list to share between 700 (presumably) sports loving boys attending an all-boys’ school.
I can’t wait. Especially as, after a meeting of the London chapter of Room to Read, I had actually decided to return to my old school to discuss the importance of world education: time to mildly injure two winged creatures with a single stone?
The project has now spread, the 2012 version now including give-aways in Germany, Ireland and the U.S of America, and it seems that fears of free books denting book sales, (a justified fear, you would have instinctively felt), were wide of the mark, with sales of the 25 books chosen in fact boosted by 75,000 or so with all the publicity surrounding the event.
A fantastic idea, (understandably, given that the patrons of the event include everyone from Damon Albarn to Damien Hirst, Sir Tom Stoppard to Sir Richard Branson, Colin Firth to Gil Scott Heron), and a thrilling night coming up, when I go and pick up the parcel of 48 newly minted books from my local neighbourhood bookshop, (another facet of the scheme, encouraging people to frequent the lifeblood of their local literary life, independent bookshops).
Why didn’t I think of this?