On 5th March 2011, one million books are being given away as part of an initiative to ignite a passion for reading and to encourage a generation of new readers.
The short-list of selected books is varied and contains some surprises, but I don’t think that all will appeal to reluctant readers, perhaps those who like their entertainment to be projected onto 42 inch screens in 3D, or who are uncomfortable when their thumbs are not occupied in a frenzy of texting and zapping aliens. Or perhaps those who are simply time-strapped. Many people would be put off by having to admit defeat when reading David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. My choice is Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
Christopher Boone is an unusual choice of narrator, detective and writer. Acclaimed ‘the oddest and most original narrator to appear in years’, he is fifteen year’s old (fifteen years and 3 months and 2 days to be precise) and has Asperger’s syndrome. Original he is, but is he really odd? He doesn’t live life by quite the same rules as us (his rules are very specific). He doesn’t have our natural restraints. But he says exactly what he thinks, is honest to a degree that most people find unacceptable, and reacts naturally. When a policeman touches him in a way that he doesn’t like to be touched, he hits him. When there is too much information coming into his head from the outside world, he lies on the floor and groans. Step inside Christopher’s head, and it feels like a good place to be. It is everybody else who appears unreasonable, swearing, being generally unpleasant and laughing at jokes that aren’t funny. We don’t feel sorry for Christopher. We want to be him.
Despite his teacher’s advice, Christopher chooses to write about the murder of a dog, (a) because it actually happened and (b) because some dogs are cleverer and more interesting than people. He only gives his chapters prime numbers (because he likes them). He also has very particular tastes in writing. Mostly, he reads books about science and maths and he has a dislike for ‘proper’ novels in which people saying things like, ‘I am veined with, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus.’ “What does this mean?” he asks. “I do not know.” Nor do any of the adults he asks. No do I.
One of the things that I have in common with Christopher Boone is my taste in reading material (science and maths aside). I like complex subject matter, but I do not like to be patronised with use of words that have me reaching for the thesaurus. I am not fond of bullshit. I like writing to be honest, touching and true and, if possible, contain laugh-out-loud moments. I am prepared to invest time and emotion, but I do want some form of pay-back.
I suspect that reluctant readers will be equally as demanding. We need to dispell the myths that novels are difficult and (as Gareth Malone’s boys suggested) boring. The last thing we want to do is to deliver one million books that will gather dust. I am relying on The Curious Incident to deliver.
Jane has been selected as a giver for World Book Night – www.worldbooknight.org
To be given a book is like being given a ship: you become a Christopher Columbus and there’s no saying what you’ll find across the ocean. I’m delighted that Life of Pi is part of World Book Night. May all who receive the book reach safe harbour.