Friday, 11 March 2011

World Book Night: mission accomplished!

                                                        (c) East Anglian Daily Times

Given the blanket coverage on BBC2 during the evening of March 5th, no-one can say they haven't heard of World Book Night now, even if they're not exactly sure what it means. For our Reading Group it meant a kind of 'coming out' – a celebration of our own existence as well as a celebration of reading for a wider audience.

There was a variety of different ways to give: one woman in Diss was going to literally take to the streets and hand out books – risky, I thought! I learned from the WBN website that others were having themed events relating to the title they had chosen: for example 'Tea & Toast' for Nigel Slater's book. We simply gathered at the pub where we have met for the past 3 years. This in itself was poignant as it was to be the last Saturday that the landlords, Jackie and Mick, would be there. New tenants take over on Wednesday while Jackie and her husband set off for a 'new' life running a bar in Lanzarote. Anyhow, our choice of venue meant a busy afternoon's trade at the King's Arms as guests and Saturday lunchtime regulars mingled, drank and talked. An iPad was produced and some discussion followed about the merits of electronic books (see my earlier post about Literary Luddites).

I was not unpleasantly nervous as the hour approached to finally convert words into actions. On reflection I had spent countless hours in front of my laptop, starting with my initial application last December to give away 48 copies of Cloud Atlas. World Book Night's website has been a fascinating and flawed creation, but they have staggered towards perfection and almost achieved it. Since March 4th it has metamorphosed into a multi-faceted social networking site for the nation's readers and, fingers crossed, will soon be tracking the progress of individual volumes as they are read and then passed on. Who knows where that will end? We at Reading Group know at least that one book will be shortly on its way to a bar in the Canary Isles!

As the 'official' giver I had planned quite precisely how I wanted the event to proceed. I arrived at the pub at 1 pm, my husband carrying the books which were quite heavy as you can imagine – we had picked one of the lengthier titles on offer from WBN. Reading Group members began to gather, and very shortly we had decorated the bar with posters and stacked all the Cloud Atlases on the very table where we hold our monthly meetings. I had spent the previous day laboriously inserting tracking data inside 48 back covers as requested by WBN to facilitate BookCrossing. Now Geoffrey and Brigit sat down and affixed his specially created Reading Group bookplates in the front of each book! We know that WBN is going to follow the 'journey' of each free book, but we as a group are also anxious to know where David Mitchell's novel travels and how it is received.

No sooner had we begun to arrange books in piles than the Bury Free Press photographer, a friendly young woman called Mischa, arrived and asked us to back-track for the sake of her pictures. Soon she had recorded some 'mock' giveaways and group photos, then she was on her way to a similar event at Waterstone's bookshop in Bury St Edmunds. Once order had been restored and each Reading Group giver allocated their copies there was little to do but drink and chat until the appointed hour of 2 pm. Lo and behold, just as I was about to open proceedings with some well-chosen words, yet another press photographer turned up, this time Phil from the East Anglian Daily Times. This gave us hope of some genuine action shots. Sadly the resulting press coverage was a little disappointing, the Bury Free Press containing nothing this Friday, and the EADT squeezing us into a small place at the foot of a massive article about threatened library closures. Oh well...

But on the day we cared little. I welcomed everyone, explained a bit about World Book Night, going on to briefly summarise Cloud Atlas and say why we had chosen it to share. Sally gave us a quick 'sketch' of her experiences at the Trafalgar Square launch the previous evening, although she had already been regaling all who would listen with tales of poor old Alan Bennett's cold fingers, of naughty Graham Norton, and the variety of authors on stage reading from their own work, as well as showing off her exclusive Antony Gormley T-shirt! The first book was presented to our host, Jackie, with our appreciation for putting up with noisy group meetings – we do hope the new tenants are open to a little literary culture in their future plans for the King's Arms. The next recipient, a Stowupland High School 6th former, also received 10 copies for some of their English Literature students. After that it was the turn of group members to distribute volumes to their chosen recipients. Suddenly it was all over, and more quickly than I had anticipated. Naturally people lingered and had a laugh or two, and then I dragged myself home at about 4 pm.

So, what happens now? Well, Cloud Atlas is not an overnight read, so we don't expect to hear any responses for just a while. World Book Night intends to repeat the exercise next year and, although we are registered as inaugural givers, I don't expect we will win the chance to give away books a second time. It was suggested that the Reading Group raises its own funds, in the way that rural enterprises can do, to acquire books to give away at an event to coincide with whatever WBN dreams up for 2012. Having seen, via TV and internet, how other giveaways were organised it would be lovely if we could come up with something original and attention-catching that might merit better publicity than it seems we got this time around! One thing is sure, Reading Group will continue to meet and argue and drink and explore a variety of books, deepening our understanding of world literature and each other.

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