Yesterday, April 23rd, was World Book Night 2013. Across the UK, 20,000 volunteers gave away their favourite books from WBN’s shortlist. The aim is to give these books to people who do not have a lot of access to books or do not read regularly and to raise awareness of literacy and community.
So, after work, I met two old colleagues and great friends, Clare @birdwingwords and Frankie @FKEdwards, who I used to work with at Edinburgh International Book Festival @edbookfest. I was giving away Robert Louis Stevensons’ Treasure Island, a classic adventure, which I have always loved for its escapism and exotic travelling tales (http://ow.ly/knq95). Clare had Jackie Kay’s Red Dust Road, the story of a woman tracing her roots and paying homage to her family (http://ow.ly/knpUF). Frankie had Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, the real memoir of her traumatic childhood, which her award-winning novella Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit was also based on (http://ow.ly/knpZn). We planned to give our books away around Kings Cross station, as it is part of our daily commute, the hub of London-Edinburgh travel and always busy with a real mixture of people.
Our first giveaway was onto the 7.00 @EastCoast train headed to Edinburgh. EastCoast’s lovely representative Sophie took a book, and we put three onto the train to be picked up by unsuspecting commuters. I hope they travel far and make a difference to somebody’s journey.
We then spoke to some people in the station concourse; a group of schoolboys returning to Leeds said they didn’t like to read but agreed to give Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal a go. A young family said they had very little time to read but would be interested in the family story of Red Dust Road. A man travelling to Jamaica said he would like to take Treasure Island there, and pass it on to someone else, as it was all about travelling and islands. A distressed mother carrying an enormous cardboard cut out of her daughter (who had appeared in a premiere the day before) had missed her train and lost her son. She was thrilled to take a book and touched by the idea of WBN, which had made her evening that bit better. A tall man returning home from the north of England produced a WBN book from his bag when we approached him- a Giver in Leeds had already approached him with A Little History of the World (http://ow.ly/knswW). Two National Rail workmen, eating their dinner near the station said they had time to read but no books and they promised to start our books that very evening.
We had some rejections too, partly people disinterested in our titles and partly people who simply didn’t want to be bothered. So after an hour we moved away from the station and up Birkenhead Street, to St Mungo’s homeless refuge (http://www.mungos.org/). We left several books there, with Caroline who planned to arrange a display of the new book donations for that night’s residents. Around the corner, at what used to be Age Concern (http://www.ageuk.org.uk/) we left three books with a man who was so excited he asked if it was possible for him to have one of all of our titles. Further up Grey’s Inn road we went to a cheap traveller’s hostel, and spoke to two Romanians who couldn’t read English well but promised to try. We also popped into the Royal National Throat, Ear and Nose Hospital and the Terence Higgin’s Trust care centre (http://www.tht.org.uk/our-charity/About-us/Our-centres) and left some books for their reception areas.
Our last bookswop of the day was with a group of friends and flat mates in DrinkShopDo back near King’s Cross. We were in need of some dinner and drinks by then and we asked everyone to bring a book to swop, to celebrate with us. It was amazing how many people brought several, and the conversation about them went on far longer than was sensible for a school night!
I hope to be part of World Book Night again next year and I would encourage everyone who can to get involved http://www.worldbooknight.org/