Thursday, 3 March 2011

World Book Night - the Countdown

So, I have collected my 48 copies of Dissolution by C.J. Sansom from Blackwell's in Oxford and now I have 2 days to finalise my plans for giving them away on Saturday night during the first ever World Book Night. Somehow, 48 books don't seem enough as I have a rather long shortlist of ideas to choose from!

Oxford is an internationally renowned city of learning and academia but what has struck me since moving here is just how much poverty and associated lack of opportunity there is in some parts of the city. It is certainly not all dreaming spires. Oxford is saturated in books, from the wonderful Bodleian Library to all the fantastically stocked local libraries, it would seem that we should be the most literate and well-read city in Britain. However, according to the National Literacy Trust, one in six adults in the UK has a literacy rate that is lower than the level expected of an eleven year old. That means that there are a great many people in Oxford who struggle with literacy. For someone who takes their own literacy for granted, the figure from the National Literacy Trust is shocking. I am not suggesting that handing out 48 books will somehow have any impact upon this issue - but whilst deciding where to hand out my books these thoughts have been at the back of my mind.

I am in the fortunate position to be able to say that books are not a luxury for me. Rather, I view them as a necessity! I don't have to choose between food and books. But for many people, especially in these difficult times, these choices will be made more and more. Public libraries become sacred spaces during economic difficulty - all of us need to save the pennies, some more than others, so a library offers a place in which we can all access any text, for free. As I have already mentioned, many local libraries in Oxfordshire will be forced to close due to funding cuts from the local government. I just want to know, where will people be able to get their books from when they can't afford to buy them? Why is access to the printed word viewed as a luxury? I don't know.

I do know that World Book Night is a fantastic scheme - whilst it is only one night, it is one night during which anyone could end up holding a book that they may never have held otherwise. Whether, it's someone who gets a book that they just would never have chosen or someone who doesn't have the money to spend on books for themselves it doesn't matter. For one night the whole country will become like a library - totally egalitarian as to who takes the books home.

I will keep you posted as to exactly where and when I will be handing the books out. Is anyone else a World Book Night Giver? What are your plans? For the rest of you, are you hoping to bag a freebie?


  1. I read a really interesting article in the NY Times about Natalie Portman and her scientific credentials - she has a degree in psychology from Harvard - wait, this is relevant - and how people thought it was a 'waste' that she had gone on to have a 'valueless' career in the arts when she could have been a scientist/doctor/generally more 'useful' person to society. Someone wisely commented that as a society we are focused on prolonging life and developing technology and science to make life easier without considering what makes life worthwhile in the first place, and failing to encourage the development of what does make life worthwhile - essentially, the pleasure people take in art and self expression and literature and theatre and film etc - is why we're in the state we're in. Art is so important in developing the creativity, imagination, ambitions, morals and conscience of people, and it shouldn't be dismissed as unworthy of notice or simply an indulgence on the side of life. It is essential TO life itself, and governments who attempt to stamp out access to arts in the name of making improvements to other more 'worthwhile' public sector services will find that they're shooting themselves in the foot. There will be a lot more unhappiness and poor health in the world if people have no access to ways to learn and develop and express their minds.

    Hope you have fun distributing the books - don't know if anything is going on in NYC - I'll let you know if I find a lonely book on the subway!

  2. You are bang on it Rachel. Bang on it.

    If I could throw far enough to NYC I would - but you've seen my arm muscles.... non-existent.

  3. If you come to my blog you will know that books in Sri Lanka are exorbitant. There is no way I can buy new books (at all). Fortunately I have been lucky with my second hand book haul (from just only two bookshops in the whole of Colombo) and this is what keeps me going. Apart from this my other source of books are the wins (of which I have had quite a few). But and this is a big but, so many of the giveaways now are with restrictions because of the high cost of postage so that is why I love book giveaways coming from Book Depository where shipping is free! If you can also throw as far as Sri Lanka please throw this way!

  4. Hello, I have just come across your Blog by chance, I am in Heaven.! I was searching on Alice Oswald Poems which led me to your posting, so glad I did. I am passionate about literature too. Can't imagine a life without books. Hope you have great fun sending out those wonderful books.

    Thank you for allowing me to stop by.

  5. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you will come across a book that has been left behind on purpose. It's part of the Have a Book, Leave a Book initiative. I've had people bring books into the library that they found on a windowsill down the hall in our community centre. They are left there for others to find, enjoy and then pass on. I politely ask the person to just take the book back where they found it or take it home to read.

    I can't wait to hear how your Book Night unfolds, Naomi! All the best!

  6. Looking forward to reading where and to whom you gave your books. I have two friends who were also picked to give away books. One was going to take hers to an old people's home (she was giving 'Love in the Time of Cholera') and the other was going to give them to people on the Gosport ferry to read (can't remember what her book was).

  7. Some sobering thoughts here Naomi. Libraries are indeed in the spotlight at the moment and surely the powers that be need to sit up and take notice, especially with World Book Night having taken place.

    I look forward to reading about how it all went. Fabulous choice of book!


  8. You've really got my thinking . . .
    I already tutor struggling readers -- but just the small kind. Adult illiteracy is so very sad, because it goes way beyond the pleasures of reading. Can you imagine what a struggle it must be to function in the world. Do you know what (if any) volunteer sources are available in Oxford? I am moving to Oxford this summer (hopefully!) and it is something that I would be interested in doing.

    What are your plans for handing your books out?

    BTW, I adore the way you describe yourself . . . "me, too."

    To answer your question (re: the Henrietta Garnett post), NO, I've never been to Charleston. Or Sissinghurst. I plan on seeing them every summer, but we always get too busy. I think that this is THE summer, though. My interest has been well and truly piqued.