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World Book Night

Yesterday, Jamie Byng announced the largest book give-away ever attempted on  BBC’s The Culture Show. On 5th March 2011, 20,000 passionate readers will each give away 48  books to members of the public, aiming to bring the joys of adult reading to people who might never set foot in a bookshop or library.

A prominent panel of authors and readers headed up by James Naughtie have whittled the list down to twenty five titles. Even if you don’t wish to participate in the event, I am sure that, like me, you will find something on the list that has escaped your notice. Not all are commonly acknowledged classics. Toast by Nigel Slater, is an interesting choice of autobiography, but a wonderfully warm and entertaining read.   

I have selected Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time from the list. It seems to me that if a new generation of readers are to be encouraged, we must address the reasons why people aren’t reading: the fact that there are more immediate forms of entertainment; the investment of time required; the perception expressed by boys that ‘books are boring.’ There is no point giving a non-reader War and Peace, or to give away a book that will rot away  on a shelf. For me, of all the titles chosen, this is the most immediate, the most accessible, the book that offers the most pay-back in terms of investment – added to which it has the ability to make the reader laugh and cry.  

Support for the event is spreading. Artist, Anthony Gormley said: “A book allows us to hold the experience of another in our hands and absorb it in our minds” but I also enjoyed the Hebrew quote used: “Open a book and you’re a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.” Good writing has the ability to transport the reader, not only to another time or place, but into another mind. It connects us by allowing us to share another’s human experience.

For more information, to see the final list of books and to apply, go to    

Jamie Byng, Chairman, World Book Night says:

“World Book Night is a unique collaboration between publishers, booksellers, libraries, writers and individual members of the public and one that I think is going to have an enormously positive impact on books and reading. There are few things more meaningful than the personal recommendation and having one million books given to one million different people on one night in this way is both unprecedented and hugely exciting.”