The fall out from what is basically a good idea continues, with writer Susan Hill (who wrote The Woman In Black, which is absolutely terrifying, if you’re looking for a scare this Halloween) creating her Not World Book Night list, which you can win a copy of by tweeting her a rhyme of your views on WBN.
Her objection to World Book Night is that it takes money away from publishers that could be spent on new authors, so I can’t really be angry about this, as it’s not like we have the same aims; she wants to create more books, I want to create more readers.
So using a format used functionally by a minority to promote a book list that is classic-heavy, and doesn’t include one title accessible to an emerging reader at Level 3 shouldn’t anger me, but it does. Because this is the argument that has got in the papers.
Yesterday Deborah Orr wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about the “shameful” literacy crisis in this country, albeit in the context of the bloody riots. The focus of the government and education may be making people functionally literate, but why must ‘literacy’ and ‘literary’ be mutually exclusive concepts? Why must ne’er readers, nor rioters meet? Why hasn’t The Guardian linked the two things?
I’ll tell you why I think the rioters didn’t touch a book shop; because book shops are not ‘for’ normal people who don’t have that high a reading level, like a third of the adults in the UK. Oh no.
Book shops are for people like me, who complain World Book Night selections as not accessible enough whilst embracing the concept of normalising reading for pleasure. I didn’t riot, just like I haven’t Occupied anything or been in a Kettle, because I will loose my job if I am arrested.
Reading the classics doesn’t make you a reader, reading something that engages you, that makes you want to read more, that you can empathise with, that evokes an emotion, a memory, or a feeling, that is what makes you a reader. If you have grown up without books, then it is bloody hard to engage as an adult because there is such a limited range of books that will do this that are available at an appropriate reading level. And the books that are within this range are belittled as ‘populist’. And then you have someone saying ‘I’ll give away this list of classics that people should have read’, and then you have people who work in The Guardian feeling sheepish because they’ve ‘only’ read 12 (I’ve read four and a half and couldn’t give a toss).
Until the literary world stops scorning the reading choices of the newly literate then we are never going to have a culture where books that are genuinely brilliant, and enjoyable, can win prizes, and be read comfortably and with pleasure by the masses.
I’m not going to buy a copy of the Not World Book Night list, I’m going to buy this years selection of Quick Reads, and give them out as well as (if I’m chosen as a giver) I Capture The Castle. Because both of these sets of books are worthy of reading, and of publicising in The Guardian.
Oh, and here is my poem. Sorry it’s not 140 characters…