Katy Lassetter relished the very first World Book Night by going out and meeting three bookish folk from the Chichester area who were selected as book-givers for this year’s event and were each celebrating by giving books in their own unique way. She spoke to a published writer, an arts and crafts buff and a self-confessed bibliophile about their thoughts on World Book Night, their chosen titles and how they chose to distribute them…
This year, on Saturday 5th March, two days after World Book Day, World Book Night was held. On World Book Night one million books were given away by bookworms from all over the UK and Ireland, making this the most ambitious and far-reaching celebration of adult books and reading ever attempted here.
For the book give-away-five titles were carefully selected by a wide-ranging editorial committee. Booklovers were asked to write in and request to be book-givers, stating which title they’d like to give and why and from these 20,000 participants were selected. Each book-giver had 48 copies of their chosen book to give away to any person they chose in any place they chose on World Book Night.
Katy missed the boat and did not request to become a book-giver this year. However, not being directly involved gave her a chance to look at the event objectively and meet some fascinating local book-givers.
Chichester book-giver one – Gabrielle Kimm
Gabrielle Kimm grew up in Sussex and as well as gaining a BA in English Language and Literature, from the University of Reading and a PGCE in English from the University of Oxford, she also achieved an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester.
Gabrielle’s first novel ‘His Last Duchess’ was inspired by Robert Browning’s dramatic monologue ‘My Last Duchess’. She has recently finished working on her upcoming novel, ‘The Courtesan’s Lover’ , and this is due to publish on 29th September (Katy’s birthday!). Here’s what Gabrielle had to say about World Book Night and her decision to donate her 48 books to charity:
“I was delighted to be picked as a giver for ‘World Book Night’ and especially pleased that ‘Stuart – a Life Backwards’ by Alexander Masters had been one of the list of possible titles. This is an extraordinary biography of a larger than life, impossibly difficult man called Stuart Shorter, who, in the opening pages, tells the author that he thinks the first draft of the book is ‘bollocks boring’. He suggests that Alexander Masters writes the story backwards, starting from the present day. Write it like a murder story, he suggests. Tell them who murdered the boy I was.
I decided to give the books to Stonepillow – night shelter for the homeless and centre for several other projects aimed at those sleeping rough. It occurred to me that I take buying books for granted. Books seem like a necessity to me, rather than a luxury, but for someone who has nothing, they must rank pretty low on the list of priorities. Who better, then, to give a book to, on World Book Night.
Stonepillow are going to give some of the 48 copies to the rough-sleeping visitors to the centre. Others will be made available to people who donate money to Stonepillow. Alexander Masters’ book is a clearer picture of what it is truly like to find yourself on the streets than anything else I’ve ever read. “
Gabrielle contacted Alexander Masters, and told him what she was doing with her World Book Night copies of his book, and he very kindly put together a personal email for Stonepillow , saying:
“This book comes with all my admiration and respect for the residents and users of Stonepillow’s projects. Stuart was a friend of mine who spent many years on the streets in Cambridge — a heroin addict, an alcoholic, ‘a mad bad bastard’ in his own words. In the few years I knew him and we worked on this book together, he taught me more about human resourcefulness, decency and determination than anyone I have ever met. I am deeply honoured that this book about Stuart has been chosen to be given out in Stonepillow tonight.”
Stonepillow is an excellent cause and Gabrielle’s choice to give ‘Stuart – a Life Backwards’ to people who can truly relate to the story and will hopefully get a lot out of it is really inspired. Read more about Chichester writer Gabrielle Kimm here.
Chichester book-giver two –Bryony Jennings
Bryony is the proprietor of Pretty Scruffy Shop & Gallery in Cooper Street Chichester. The shop is filled with exclusively handmade goods and lots of original and independent works of art, making locally produced art and crafts more accessible. One feature that’s definitely worth a look if you’re in Chichester is Bryony’s gorgeous patchwork animals – be warned you will fall in love!
Katy went to visit Bryony at Pretty Scruffy on Saturday and got her free copy of ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry. Here are Bryony’s thoughts on World Book Night:
“I thought it was a really good initiative, anything that encourages people to celebrate and share the gift of books and reading is positive in my book (excuse the pun, teehee!).
I chose ‘A Fine Balance’ by Rohinton Mistry, one of my favourite authors. I first read this book whilst working in India, it’s beautiful and shocking in its realism. It follows the stories of four characters living in India during the mid 70s, a time in which Prime Minister Indira Gandhi declared a State of Emergency and in its name, saw countless atrocities committed, violating human rights. India is a magical yet gritty and disturbing country, the history and depth of characterisation covered in the books helped me address my experience there in a much more considered manner. I am not sure I can say much else that would do this book proper justice, Suffice to say, I don’t think a book has to end happily ever after to make it a worthwhile read.
My personal experience of World Book Night itself was very positive, I met lots of people, some of whom were avid readers and some who looked pretty frightened when I mentioned the word book! Not only was I able to share 48 copies of one of my favourite books with others but also interesting conversations arose from the experience, reading recommendations were swapped, and today a lady brought me a copy of a book she had wanted to share with someone for ages. In that sense the initiative gave rise to connections and conversations I wouldn’t ordinarily have been able to make with others in my community. Books can do this. I really hope World Book Night continues to grow and develop.”
Bryony’s experiences show just how sociable books can be and certainly demonstrate World Book Night’s aim to celebrate adult books and reading. To find out more about Bryony and Pretty Scruffy please visit: www.prettyscuffy.com.
Chichester book-giver three –Helen J Beal
Wordsmith and bibliophile Helen J Beal completed her first novel, ‘Thirty Seconds Before Midnight’ last year and is close to finishing her second novel, ‘Rich in Small Things’. As an avid reader, as well as a writer, Helen was delighted to be picked as a book-giver for World Book Night, and had this to say on her book choice, ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel, and the idea of the new event:
“Life of Pi remains one of my most favourite books ever. It’s the story itself, the writing, the zoological references, the tenderness, the spiriting of the imagination to a place a mind would never think to go, to explore the depth and breadth of the experience of being stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger for seven perilous months.
Although there have been some naysayers about World Book Night, as you would expect with any groundbreaking initiative, for me it was an opportunity to share one of my greatest passions and a book that I will always love and remember and wanted other people to find and enjoy too. We had a lot of fun giving the books away – people on the whole were thrilled with the gift and, although some people will never read it, I am sure there will be more reading happening on account of the million books given away on Saturday night.”
Katy went and collected a copy of ‘Life of Pi’ by Yann from Helen at Chichester’s Market Cross at 19.30 and at the same time caught up with how Helen’s World Book Night had gone so far. It turns out Helen took a slightly different approach to Gabrielle and Bryony, going in search of book lovers on the South Coast as she made her way from Chichester to London and back again. Helen made a book-giving day of it, handing out copies of ‘Life of Pi’ to commuters on the train to London, to London cabbies , a waitress in a London restaurant, passersby at Chichester’s Market Cross and Chichester pub-goers.
Read more about Helen’s World Book Night experiences at: www.helenjbeal.com.
Eileen Grimes, who was interviewed on The World Book Night Culture Show special A Million Books for Free, sums up why World Book Night is so important when she describes what reading means to her:
“It’s the imagination, it takes you everywhere, you can go anywhere, you don’t need companions you can make your own, you can travel, you can go anywhere you like in this world, all in the mind.”
Here’s looking forward to next year’s World Book Night!