World Book Night 2012 – The Books… BookElf’s verdict

This is what I think. Not what everyone in Leeds Book Club thinks.
So another year and another World Book Night. After having such an amazing time last March, I (and AR, and I hope a shed load of you!) have once again signed up to be a giver.
When the list of books being released was published last night, there were some reservations on my part. Mostly along the ‘what is the point of putting out-of-copyright books that you can buy for ten pence on the list’ lines. Then I realised two things. Firstly that one of my favourite ever books ever, I Capture The Castle, was on the list, and secondly, as I have already pointed out this week, you can already buy a shed load of books for ten pence, so why am I moaning?
The list is fairly comprehensive, though there are some moans about there being no poetry included this year, after Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife was such a fav last year. I’m not the biggest poetry fan in the world, but a hell of a lot of emerging readers, and reading groups, love it, and as research from The Reader Organisation shows, poetry can massively help with relaxation, and is therefore a benefit for mental health.
What I think this year’s list has once again proven is that no one is entirely sure of World Book Night’s aims. It clearly isn’t to get the nation’s favourites out there, To Kill a Mocking Bird, that won the frankly ludicrous ‘top 100’ polling list earlier this year isn’t included, though I suspect this is due to Harper Lee quite rightly not being vastly keen on the work that goes into promoting WBN, and of the royalties lost, what with this being a set-text and all. I imagine secondary school teachers and currently morning the loss of a free class set of brand new note-free books.
But if it isn’t about what ‘we’, whoever, ‘we’ are (the literate? Who borrow more James Patterson and Danielle Steele than Austen and Ishiguro? Who still buy a Mills and Boon every three seconds? Oh, the ‘actual’ literate, the ones who count. I see) want to read, or want others to read, what is it about? Getting people to read for pleasure? I don’t think so.
The one book that’s got more of my mature students who ‘don’t’ read reading more than any other isn’t on the list, and I suspect never will be. It’s ‘A Child Called It’ by Dave Pelzer. Only last week I had a woman come back for more, she’s now borrowed three Cathy Kelly’s and I’ve requested a shed load more from other libraries for her. These books, ‘misery porn’, are incredibly popular, and what’s more populist. Yet they are mocked, including by myself, for being nothing but trash that only somehow disturbed people would enjoy.
Last year Alexander Master’s phenomenal book Stuart: A Life Backwards made the list, and I immediately jumped on it, because I know it’s good and I know it would make people want to read. And I was right; one woman who took the book with her rang me within the week singing it’s praises, having made everyone in her office read it. It’s never on the shelves at work.
So why is the only biographical text on the list Touching The Void, an inspiring story or hardship, yes, but hardly one with which the one out of three people in this country that have been affected by abuse or neglect in childhood can empathise with, realising that reading is for them, and can be a hobby they could participate in? Why is A Tale of Two Cities on the list? Why is I Capture The Castle? It’s my favourite book, and I’ve obvious applied for it, but I want to inspire people to become readers, I want reading to loose the stigma surrounding it. I want my children to be able to read avidly for pleasure without being othered as geeks, and not have to reclaim that word and stick a vintage £40 cardigan on it fifteen years later in order for it to pass as acceptable. I Capture The Castle isn’t going to do that; it will speak to the tiny minority of teenage girls like I used to be, but I’d have turned out alright anyway. I’d have much rather had a book that I know people will lap up. There isn’t one piece of YA on the list (and no The Book Thief doesn’t count, The Book Thief is to YA what smoked salmon is to a fry up. Just because they’re both eaten in the morning doesn’t mean they’re on the same plate).
However, I do have a gripe at the ‘they’re books everyone has already read’ moan that was also going round. I thought that about Northern Lights last year, and look how wrong I was! This year I’ve been beaming with joy as three of my friends worked through that series together, all because it was part of the donated pile in March.
Anyways, apart from those small moans, I think it’s a great list. World Book Night itself takes place on 23 April 2012, which is a Monday (?), and I’m going to place a large bet that Arcadia let us take over their side room. Hell, we could even take over the pub if we get enough people! I’ve applied, N’s applied, I know a couple of others have, but even if none of us get to be givers (and I’ve got every finger and toe crossed as I cannot WAIT to make people read I Capture The Castle, in fact, I’m going to anyway…) I’ll throw a book party the weekend after round mine. We can all dress up as fictional characters and talk loudly about our favourite books. But no one is allowed to recycle their Game of Thrones costumes from February, that’s cheating.


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