If you are a book lover, World Book Night's tagline is impossible to ignore.
This year, like last, 20,000 givers are hitting the streets today armed with 24 copies of their book of choice to give away to non- or sometime-readers to encourage them to read and to share their love of reading. It's also Shakespeare's birthday and Unesco International Day of the Book.
Last year I was initially unsuccessful in my giver application, but became a reserve giver when one of my local libraries found itself with a spare box of Alan Bennett's A Life Like Other People's. (Which, incidentally, was the book I'd chosen in the first place.) My friend Holly, who had plumped for Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters, and I took to the streets of Glasgow to bestow copies of our chosen books upon unsuspecting diners.
This year I decided to do the same thing, selecting The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak, but receiving my second choice, Roald Dahl's debut short story collection, Someone Like You. (No, it has nothing to do with the Adele song, and yes, I've been asked!)
Giving people freebies is a curious experience. While studying abroad, I was involved with the local, student-run cinema, where we had a series of second-run films each quarter. One night we were screening The Golden Compass, and someone had called the distributor to ask for some goodies. Boy, did they deliver. We had the video game in every format, copies of the book, playing cards, cuddly toys, and even lead-containing statues of polar bears. Handing freebies out as people entered, they were uptight and weirded out by the transaction. As soon as someone stood on the stage to announce a raffle and threw some toys into the crowd, though, the mood changed considerably.
World Book Night can probably seem like a cult to some. Strangers with heaping bags approach you and ask about whether you've heard of their odd cause, thrusting paperbacks and demanding nothing in return but that you give them a chance and read them. Today I encountered a couple of upturned noses and plain "no"s, a snigger of sheer bemusement, and plenty of smiles. One man was teaching English to a Polish group and said they might come in handy. One woman had read Dahl to her kids and was curious to find out what he had in store for the over-18s. Overall, though, the bemusement and disbelief becomes part of the charm of giving away some free books to unsuspecting customers. I even bumped into a fellow giver, whose blog you can find at http://www.alwaysreading.net/!
Have you taken part in World Book Night? If you have any stories please do share them, or let me know about which books you've given away or lent enthusiastically.