I signed up for World Book Night as soon as I heard about it. I thought I’d give my copies of Half of a Yellow Sun to teenagers that, in their well-off, West End Glasgow lives, probably had no idea about what it was like to live on the other side of the world under circumstances such as experienced during the Biafran conflict.
I am old enough for that event to have such resonance from my childhood. And thirteen-year-old Ugwu is a breathtakingly vivid character.
I was yet to work out just how I was going to get these books to the spoilt teens, but it turns out now I don’t have to. In the end I had to give up my allotted freebies due to circumstances but also frustration. My presence is needed that night for family business in deepest Cheshire. I tried to find out more about the practicalities of getting and distributing the books on the night – would I have to be present? But despite my years of experience in lateral thinking and trying to find things out (journalism), came up with zilch. So I gave the whole thing up.
Then I read various blogs from indendepent booksellers about what a bad idea the whole thing was. It would perpetuate the idea that content should be free. It’s bad enough that most people think all words written online are free that it should now be applied to words printed on paper. It’s not helped by revered commentators diminishing the role of professional writers, editors and publishers in their wholehearted embrace of the ‘here comes everybody’ culture. This is not good for the creative sector or creativity itself. Those that live by writing are already getting the lowest return on (brain) power out of all other professions (see my last blog).
It was also, said some, a weird idea to flood the market with a million free books. It would do nothing to help struggling booksellers and smaller publishers.
Another thing I’m afraid I must mention is, despite being in the thick of hearing things about library activity, I know nothing of any events by libraries either using World Book Night to promote themselves or to act as venues for the big book giveaway. I’d love to be wrong and I hope lots of things are in fact going on.
After all, as Ian Jack said in the Guardian on Saturday, urging people to read well-loved books isn’t new, “…hasn’t the same thing been done by public libraries for more than a century?”.