Sunday, March 20, 2011

World Book Night and non-readers.

Interesting comment by Annette Green at The View From Here, on the success or otherwise of World Book Night, quoting some figures. My own comment is more anecdotal. The Oxfam bookshop in our middle-class and pretty literary Didsbury was giving away two of the titles, a thriller (I can't even remember the title: you may know what it was) and Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife. Beforehand I talked about it to Wendy, the manager. Since one of the stated aims had been to get books to people who don't normally read, I asked her if she thought it remotely possible that those sort of people would come and ask for a book (the shop wasn't doing any kind of event, simply advertising in its window that the books would be available for collection). She told me that initially she had thought of giving the books out in the deprived area near where she lives, but the more she thought about it, the more she thought it would be a wasted exercise: so many people there aren't even literate. So she decided to give the books away in the shop instead. She said she would observe carefully those coming for the books and let me know.

Well, I went down to see myself, arriving twenty minutes after the giveaway was due to start. I saw nothing: turned out that beforehand a queue had formed right around the block, but they had cleared out of books within 15 minutes. Everyone had grabbed their book and immediately scarpered! There was just no one around! The staff told me that everyone collecting a book had indeed been your typical book-buying middle-class Didsbury type who'd have been more likely than anyone to buy the books in the first place.

So much for getting the books to those who don't normally read. Although I have to say (as an ex English teacher) that either that was a pious whitewash or those organizing WBN, who really ought to know the harsh facts about the extent of non-reading in our culture and its psychology, had better wise up quick.
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