World Book Night 2013

World Book Night logo

In a welcome moment of generosity, collaboration and awareness of the wider world, the publishing industry, in the guise of World Book Night – a registered charity with trustees and a steering committee made up of big guns from Hachette, Little Brown, Hodder, Penguin and HarperCollins as well as writers and booksellers – will tonight turn its attention to those it usually prefers not to think about: non-readers.

The charity has recruited 20,000 volunteers to give out 400,000 free books to those traditionally not targeted by the industry: those with little access to the internet, little money to spend in book shops and little willingness or ability to navigate the heady world of over-priced e-readers.

A further 100,000 will be given out to prisons, care homes, young offenders institutes, hospitals, sheltered and supported housing and our ailing libraries.

This determined effort to spread the benefits of reading should be celebrated – so too should the list of books to be given out, which achieves fairly easily the oft-strived for goal of gender balance.

Ten out of twenty of the books are written by women, with offerings from Malorie Blackman, Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory poised to be some of the most eagerly snapped-up.

It’s to be debated whether or not the roster of events – held mostly in libraries and bookshops, and with a £10 entry fee to the London flagship event – will achieve WBN’s stated aim of reaching those who “don’t regularly read”.

One could argue that the event’s literary, highbrow, celebratory tone – April 23rd chosen to coincide with the Bard’s birthday and echo the oh-so-widely-known Catalan courting ritual of exchanging roses for books on St George’s day – often undermines the message that reading is for everyone.

That said, its not often the book is celebrated so fervently, and we should give the publishing industry a clap on the back for this huge effort to spread the benefit of the printed word. Flagship events are taking place in London, Liverpool, Cambridge and Edinburgh. We’ve also got our eye on the party up at the Glasgow Women’s Library.