Friday, 11 February 2011

Misguided World Book Night? Misnomer, More Like

At the Guardian, Benedicte Page reports on the objections against World Book Night from some independent booksellers and writers. The plan is to give away a million books across the UK and Ireland on 5 March. Selected readers can collect 48 books each from local libraries and bookshops and pass them on, ideally to people who wouldn't normally read. And now some people are objecting by saying that the scheme devalues books as a cultural commodity.

My two cents on this subject: Since when did giving away free samples make things seem less attractive? Don't you love it when you get a little sample of perfume in your carrier bag or a free shot at a bar? Remember those poor students in stupid clothing who gave away free cigarettes to drunk people in pubs in the 90s? And think of the recent horror over cuts to the UK's excellent Bookstart programme to get kids reading. Like many well-meaning campaigns, this one probably has a few glitches - which I'll come to in a moment - but I hardly think the UK publishing and bookselling industry is shooting itself in the foot by celebrating reading in this way.

So now I come to the glitches. The first, for me, is a structural issue. How the hell is anyone supposed to transport 48 books without a car? So I'm assuming that the "givers" in the programme will indeed be "nice bookish people" - aka middle-class car-owners - as an anonymous bookseller criticised.

The second is a personal grudge. Why bother calling the dang thing World Book Night if it's only happening in the UK and Ireland - and there are only two translated books on the list of 25 to be given away? Now, I can see that they've tried to take me personally into account by kindly including a German book, but unfortunately it's All Quiet on the Western Front, which is the kind of thing my grandad used to read. Yes, I know it's a classic piece of pacifist literature burned by the Nazis. Yes, I'm sure many grumpy old men* will enjoy reading it. And yes, I know they wanted a broad selection of titles with mass appeal. I don't have to like it though, do I?

Sheesh. Next year, I expect them to take me and a number of other highly informed international lit bloggers on as paid consultants. Or otherwise rename the event. UK and Ireland Heavily Slewed to English Book Night ought to do the trick.

*Not that my grandad was particularly grumpy.

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