The title says it all, really. After World Book Day on Thursday, we had World Book Night last night, a huge giveaway of a million books across the country. I discovered the Brighton event was at the Jubilee Library starting at 8 (though there had been events all day), and I toddled along to see what I could see.
I was hoping (and half expecting) to see writerly types I knew there, but alas… Anyway, there were tables set up at the back in the teen books section, where givers would go and register and then give away the 48 copies of whatever book they had selected. Sadly, it turned out that no one in Brighton had opted to give away Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights, which I was hoping to pick up. But looking at it philosophically, that’s precisely what libraries are for. Still, I did get a few (I was glad it wasn’t limited to one per person, especially as I wanted to get one or two for a couple of friends, as well). There were a couple I would never have picked up otherwise, which I’m always open to. You can never read too widely, after all. A book of Seamus Heaney’s poems for Kala, a copy of Toni Morrison’s Beloved for Sharmin (both avid readers, too) and a copy of Gabriel García Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera for Greg, as I know he likes his writing. (I’ll probably read it myself, too – gotta be sneaky!)
Having missed out on Northern Lights, though, I was ecstatically happy to get hold of a copy of Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith, as it’s one of hers I haven’t yet read (I’m completely in love with Tipping the Velvet). The Life of Pi, judging by the blurb, is nothing like what I expected, so I shall curl up with that one cold evening. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is a classic, and since I saw Sebastian Faulks talking about it on Faulks on Fiction the other night, I took the opportunity to get a copy. And there were quite a few copies of Cloud Atlas going round, so I got a copy of that, too. I had picked up a copy of Toast, but later on, a woman standing next to me saw I had it and said how much she wanted to read it as she’d heard the writer talk about it on the radio. I didn’t know how long it would sit on my bookshelf (I have a reading list a mile long) or if she would get a chance to get one for herself, so I gave it to her. (Anyone who knows me will know that usually, you have to use a crow bar to prise books away from me, so this was a particularly altruistic moment!)
Suffice to say, I have enough books to last me a while (not that I didn’t already), some of which I may not otherwise have read. I also got talking to a local writer who recommended P. G. Wodehouse, a writer I’ve been meaning to read but never have. In exchange, I offered him Jasper Fforde (not literally), and he made a note of The Eyre Affair as the first in the series as it sounded like something he would enjoy. (Frankly, if you’re a bookworm, you’ll love them – simple as that.) Later on (we were talking for quite a while) he said I should read War and Peace. I admitted that this was on my list of ‘books I’ll probably never read’, because it’s so… well, long. But he said it’s like a soap opera and one to curl up with on a dark winter night, so I’ve made a mental note and will grab a cheap Penguin edition when I next visit a bookshop (that won’t be long, then).
Writers stood on the makeshift podium and read from their work, writers signed copies over in a corner, there was a story time for children in the children’s library, givers walking round, um, giving and booklovers from wall to wall. It was amazing. I was in heaven, quite honestly, surrounded by people who love books and reading as much as I do, talking to random strangers about books and reading and theatre and books and *almost faints* BOOKS!
I believe this is going to be an annual event (I certainly hope so), with 40,000 copies of 25 titles distributed free, with the intention of registering them on the site, reviewing them and passing them on (to be registered again, so the journey of individual books can be tracked). It’s a fabulous idea. Not all the books had their ID numbers written in the back, which makes registering them impossible, but I’ve no doubt at least a few of these (the Sarah Waters, for sure) will remain on my shelves anyway. But the idea of a global book club, sharing opinions and recommending books to read, is startling. It just goes to prove that there are still many of us who take pleasure in reading and it doesn’t take much of an effort (though I suspect organising all this took an incredible effort) to find us.
This makes the government’s plans to close libraries across the country even more absurd than it already is. Events such as World Book Day and World Book Night prove beyond doubt that there are still people like me who love books for the escapism they provide, the smell of a new book, the idea of holding someone else’s words (and therefore their heart and soul) in your hands… What can be better than that? The last I heard was that, of eleven libraries across the Isle of Wight, there are plans to close nine of them. Nine. You don’t need me to point out that this would leave the whole island with just two public libraries. There are people who can’t afford to buy all the books they read. There are people with limited space at home (and most of us have, these days, let’s face it) and lack the room to keep them all. (Thankfully, I keep most of my books at my mum and dad’s and use their house as my own personal library, but not everyone can do that.) Many of the books I read as a child and growing up were from the library (Betsy Byars, anyone?), and my reading age was consistently a couple of years above my actual age, partly because I always loved books and stories anyway, but partly because I was able to read so widely – because of libraries.
I’m going to stop going on, now, and leave you with some photos I took last night. I’ve never seen a library – any library – so full of people before and it was sensational. And I’ll just drop one last observation in here: generally speaking, readers and writers are nuts. In a good way.