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World Book Night

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When I heard about World Book Night I was very excited and signed up, crossing fingers, toes, eyes and anything else I could that I would be chosen. When I got the email telling me I was to be allotted 48 copies of Dissolution by C J Sansom, one of my favourite authors, I was so excited. I tweeted, emailed and called all my friends to let them know that I was a chosen one.

I organised my event – a Book Exchange – printing and putting up posters all around the village. I went into shops and pubs, asking them to push the event to their customers and organised a large trolley at the town hall for everyone to leave their donated books prior to the event. Family and friends agreed to come along early to help me sort out all the books before the event officially started at 10:00 this morning. In short, I was hyped and ready.

So why do I now feel so low and let down by the whole affair?

When I got to the town hall this morning I found that the only books that had been donated ahead of time were the ones I had left there a week earlier. I was disappointed, but I knew a friend was bringing a big bag of books in a few minutes so started organising the copies of Dissolution into a nice display. My friend arrives, we got some coffees and waited. And waited. And…. You get the idea.

We did have a few customers who came with a few books but most popped in and took books without leaving any. They either didn’t know about the event or they didn’t understand the concept of ‘exchange’. But no matter: books were willingly given in the spirit of World Book Night – you know, the whole encouraging people to pick up a book idea?

By 2:30 we had had maybe 10 or 12 customers, a pitiful amount, so we decided to cut our losses and head for the streets to give the books to passers-by and customers in other shops. You would have thought we were trying to give away leprosy.

Some people thought we were from some religious organisation, hell-bent on recruiting them to our cult. Some people did take the books but were a little bemused by the experience. Many, many others just said no: they didn’t read books.

When I signed up for WBN I wanted to encourage more people to read in general and in particular to read an author whom I greatly admire and enjoy. Wasn’t this the whole point of the day? But looking back on my experience, the only people who came along to the event were already readers, people for whom books were at least a small part of their lives. The ‘man on the street’, if I may borrow this cliché, knew nothing about World Book Night and wouldn’t take a book they were getting for nada.

I have come away from the day thinking that we bookish people are the only ones to whom WBN means anything. If the organisers wanted to reach out and encourage more people to read, I don’t think it worked.

Mind you, I may have experienced this because the event I organised was a book exchange and by definition, that meant that someone already had to have a book to swap for another. But I also went onto the streets to try to give them away and found very, very little enthusiasm out there.

Would I do it all again? I don’t know. If I did I’d have to think of some other event to distribute the books. And I’m not convinced that handing out a million free books is the way to encourage more reading. At best I think it will broaden the selection of books already established readers will choose from. And does that make it worthwhile?

I’d be really interested to hear about your WBN experiences.
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Writer, photographer, creative fantasist.

18 thoughts on “World Book Night

  1. I went to the library, so people there are already readers, so they were nice and receptive and thankful. I went to the library because no one else would have me. The bookstores in the high street refused. But there weren’t that many people in the library…

  2. That is sad – not so suprising but sad. Readers have heard the news because we read and listen to all things to do with reading – How do we encourage the non readers to read ? I don’t know – am suprised the freebies were not taken – maybe books are the modern day plague – are they dangerous in some way? I just don’t know – but good for you for trying

  3. Hi Nettie,

    I went down to the local bookstore as my friend had been allocated some free books and was to give them out there as were several others. There was a table outside the bookshop from which the books were distributed. Unfortunately there was a mix up with my friends books and they had been shipped on to a sister branch across the country. I get the idea that there were some problems with people who arranged events and their books didn’t arrive. The books that were there were given out in record time to those who knew about the event and to passersby. But like you, I got the idea that it was book people who took the books and if they hadn’t received the books for free they would have got the books elsewhere eventually (we have 10 charity shops in the town). So I’m not sure it encourages reading. Sorry to hear of your event, it could have been much better. I have heard from others too that it was hard to give away the books.

  4. Short of kidnapping and brainwashing them, I don’t think it’s possible to convince nonreaders to read. People learn to love reading early in life. If they don’t catch “biblioitis” early, I don’t think they catch it. I have a nonreading friend who is 60 and she LITERALLY has not read a book since high school. Not even mine. Non readers aren’t your target market. The best you can do is introduce existing readers to new authors and new genres.

  5. I had a fantastic time.

    Went to Traf Square and it was great. Gave 6 copies away

    Today gave 20 to people in my street. Wandered around Loughborough giving away 16.waterstones were great and stayed open an extra hour for book hovers and ee got together chatted and were a place for people to come and get books. Awesome day and felt really good taking part in it.

    Maybe the man whose books had not turned up should have checked earlier to resolve the issue?

    1. I am so pleased you had a great time today and you felt you got what you wanted from it. It’ll be interesting to see what the general consensus is over the next few days. Well done for achieving what you set out to do. Nx

    2. I was in Loughborough too! Had gone into Waterstones for the kids to choose books with WBD voucher (and maybe pick up something for me, and to get a book to give away as per Nicola Morgan’s complementary WBN plans) and a lady in Waterstones gave me The Blind Assassin. I was very excited (as was she – I think she said I was her first), but I did think after that it kind of wasn’t the point to give them away in a bookshop, where people were already looking for books.

  6. Very interesting to hear your experiences, Nettie. I’m sorry to say that I’m not very surprised by your conclusions – I doubted that non-readers would take any interest at all in the event, rendering the whole thing rather toothless.

    However, major kudos to you for making such an effort for the day. At least you know you tried your damnedest.

  7. Oh no, I’m sorry you’ve had such a lack lustre experience after all the wonderful effort you went to. I’m giving mine to some of my ex-pupils who aren’t massive readers, but will trust my recommendation enough to give the book a go. Hopefully that will work. I was giving the remainder away through my blog, but I have to say I’m surprised at the slow uptake. I thought that even if people weren’t readers they would love the idea of a freebie!

  8. And you went to all that effort as well!

    I had better luck when giving them out at school and my parents’ workplaces. Sadly, my fellow Maidonians were similarly reluctant to accept free copies of my chosen title ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’, which is a shame. The scheme had such good intentions, but ultimately if people decide they don’t want to read, they won’t read – whatever the book.

    You can see my blog about my attempts and watch a video I made about them on my site.

  9. I live in Loughborough, but chose to give my books away mainly in Leicester as I spent the day there. Mostly, I had good results, however, it meant taking time to explain to people that it was about sharing the pleasure of reading. Some people were suspicious, and I had to repeat I was going to give them a “free” book.

    I was horrified to hear that some givers were swapping their books with others, and one woman was crowing on Twitter that she had eight new novels to read! I went out trying hard to promote reading to people who don’t read, and yes, I met the non readers. I managed to persuade two people to read who have not read a book in their lifetime. I met others who have not read for years.

    I wasn’t lucky enough to be offered a lovely book. I didn’t bump into any other givers. Overall, I really enjoyed World Book Night.

  10. I’m glad I read this post, Nettie, and I’m sorry. *hugs* to you but you tried, and should get credit for that. It’s just a shame that the day went the way it did.

  11. Sorry to hear it was a damp squib.
    I am of the opinion that reading is a fine art, and most people can’t be arsed.
    It’s a shame you got excited about it and then disappointed. I’m always doing that about something or other and yet I never learn.

  12. Interesting to read of peoples varying experiences, love reading, but wasn’t involved in anything. Sorry, you had such a negative experience Nettie. Where were you in Leicester Maria? I live in Leicester, but wasn’t around the centre yesterday.

    When I say I love reading, I usually get the response ‘oh I’m to busy to read’, although these people are up on the soaps and reality tv!!! Am sure that the love of reading starts as a child. I only know of a couple of people who have started reading as an adult.

    The worst experience I have had with passing on books, is with a friend who claimed she would love to read but didn’t know where to start. I passed on some of the books I’d read hoping to give her a start and would ask her how she was getting and she would say fine, enjoying them, but no other feedback and just thought that was that. Anyway I went to a local car boot sale and yes that’s it she was selling them at the car boot – without even having read them! As it was her daughter intially at the car who told me ‘some woman keeps giving them to my Mum and she just shoves them in a bag’. So after that any books I finished with goes to charity shops.

  13. Interesting to read of the mixed results of peoples huge efforts here. Sorry things went pear shaped for you Nettie, full credit for trying though.

    Am sure that to you have to catch the reading bug as a child though there does not seem to be many people who take up reading as an adult. I do wonder if it’s the way it’s taught or if the right or variety of books are bought to attention.

    I have friends who say they would love to have time to read, but when you question them they have plenty have time to watch soaps, reality tv and Big Come Dine with me in a Spangly Frock! Or spend hours on Facebook.

    The worse experience I have with reading is of a ‘friend’ who said she longed to read but didn’t know where to start. I gave her a few books to start off with and later asked if she enjoyed them, fine she said, could she have some more so I did – although I never had feedback. Anyway went to a car book sale where I saw her daughter by her car with amongst other things the books I’d given her. Started talking to the daughter who told me that they were getting rid of old rubbish and a load of books ‘some woman’ kept giving her Mum. Anyway the woman appeared and was very embarassed as she obviously hadn’t read any of them.

    Anyway, good to all of you for making it a good day and making an effort to get people reading.

  14. I am sorry that it seems my experiences were not unique. I watched a recording of the first WBN TV show this afternoon and the presenter said it was, in part, a celebration of books. I am now choosing to take that interpretation and be glad that I spent yesterday celebrating with something that means so much to *me* .
    I won’t be doing it again. I missed out on a trip to Glasgow’s Aye Write festival to do this – going down next weekend instead – and I discovered that the Stitch and Hobbycraft Fair was on at the SECC at the same time. Next year I’ll celebrate books by listening to writers talk about their craft instead.
    Unless, of course, I get the books and pass them out to various people on my trip down to Glasgow…

  15. I’ve never participated in the WBN, but I can tell you I would have been right into it! I love to read and collect books avidly (even as we are moving, I’m still collecting more that need to be packed!) and I’d even be up for exchanging one of my favourites with you through the mail (but not until after March when we’re settled).

    Love this blog and your poodles are lovely! What are their names? We have three cats and when mum moves in with us there will be four!

    All the best,


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