World Book Night 2013
I applied to be a World Book Night giver this year, as my experience from 2012 was both exciting and shocking.
Last year I was giving away copies of Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I chose it because it’s funny and it is one of those books that might make people fall in love with reading. At the time I lived in Paisley and decided to give books away in the town centre and on public transport. There was a mixture of reactions – the majority negative. Paisley is a lovely little town in Renfrewshire. It has many places where books can be bought, including an amazing second hand bookshop (Abbey Books on Well Street), lots of charity shops and a couple of mainstream bookshops. Also, there are lots of libraries which have a wide range of books. Despite all that, most of the people I spoke to on the day said that they didn’t read. There were different reasons why – most of them said that they either didn’t like books or couldn’t find the genre they would enjoy. People’s reaction to me giving books away and trying to pass my enthusiasm for reading was mostly filled with suspicion or they looked at me as if I had just run away from the local psychiatric hospital. Those who gave me a chance to explain were very nicely surprised and happy to get a book. One man on the bus told me he didn’t read, but would give it a go. A lady in the shopping centre said reading was a waste of time. I tried to convince her otherwise. She did let me say what I thought of reading, but said that she was a single mother with three children and two jobs. I gave her a list of shorter books which she could borrow from the local library. I met her months later and didn’t recognise her when she stopped me in the street. She told me that reading was her way of ‘going on holidays’ she didn’t have to pay for.
Those people I spoke to had never heard of World Book Night – a few of them said it was a great idea, but some of them maintained there was no point, as people either read or not. That same day I also organised a Book Swap, which people really liked. On leaflets I stressed that people could come in even if they didn’t own any books and they could pick books to take home. That gave me an opportunity to talk to people about reading. Some people were actually embarrassed how little they read, but looked forward to reading more.
That night my head was buzzing with a variety of emotions and opinions. I tried to understand people who didn’t read and how I could change their mind. I never wrote about my experience from 2012 before, as I was lost for words. 23rd April 2012 changed my perception of people versus books. I knew there were people who didn’t read, but I was taken aback by the number of them. I decided that I could try to do something every day not only for World Book Night.
I used to work with people who loved reading but I changed my job and my new work place was my challenge to start with. Talking about books, giving them away and engaging in conversations with co-workers about reading was my new challenge. I succeeded with a few. I was mostly happy about helping a young girl, who didn’t read – there was no reason why, she just didn’t read. She was into vampires, so I gave her Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. She loved it and kept asking for different books. I used to be a book hoarder. Ok, I still am, but it gave me an opportunity to pass on books which I decided I wouldn’t want to read again or keep for any other reason. That’s what I do, I read and pass books on. I love the feeling of giving someone the opportunity to escape to another world.
For World Book Night 2013 I applied to give away Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. It’s an amazing book. I chose it not only because I loved it, but also because it’s relatively short and engrossing from the very beginning. I gave a few copies walking in the streets of Glasgow and on the bus. This year, to make it look more like a gift I tied a ribbon on each copy of the book and wrote a little note attached to it. I had only three rejections this year, which was a huge improvement. I also organised a Treasure Hunt inspired by Girl with a Pearl Earring in Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum. There are no paintings by Vermeer but they have a brilliant collection of Dutch paintings.
There are a lot of lonely people coming to Kelvingrove every day. I work there and see these people coming and going like shadows. Some of them will talk to members of staff as they have no one else to talk to, others just come in, walk around and leave to come next day and do the same. I managed to give books to some of them. I also tried to show them how books can be interesting regardless of the subject. A lot of people think that art is a pretentious hobby of the rich people. Glasgow Museums have free entry and try to reach a lot of people from different backgrounds. Girl with a Pearl Earring was a perfect choice. People who received the copy were delighted to hear that it was a story of a young girl who worked for Vermeer’s family as a maid – a story of someone they could relate to, as one of ladies said to me. People who attended really enjoyed the challenge, chat about books, art and cupcakes I made (my secret weapon).
I think it’s very important to try to reach out to people who don’t read. It doesn’t matter why they don’t read – what’s important is helping them to fall in love with reading. World Book Night is a brilliant project which might help people not only to find pleasure in reading, but to help them find something that keeps them happy regardless of what they have to face in life. It might be a cliché, but each book is a chance of having a different life, a chance to be someone else, to be somewhere else and to understand life from a different perspective – though when the cover is closed after the last chapter some of the book’s magic stays – an experience that enriches one’s life.