Book Worm

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CAN YOU TOPPIT?

WHEN is a book not a book? Deep in cyberspace, it's increasingly hard to tell. But to ramp up the hype for Charles Elton's Mr Toppit (see interview, page 15) those creative types at Penguin have gone into overdrive.

Elton's novel tells the story of a family in which the father, one Arthur Hayman, has written a globally successful series of children's books, The Hayseed Chronicles. Apart from one or two quotes, Elton tells us little about them.

The Big Blog of Hayseed (mrtoppit.wordpress.com) changes all of that. Here are "copies" of the books, merchandised figurines from them, newspaper clippings and music tracks about them, along with a load of suitably bloggish discussion threads and comments, all convincingly conveying the wider excesses of fandom. If you didn't know The Hayseed Chronicles were purely fictitious, you'd swear they were real. All excellently done – but it's going to be a rare debut novel that attracts this level of hi-tech craftiness.

LOST IN CYBERSPACE

JUST to show that classic novels can get the same treatment, though, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World will be sparking off its own spin-off as part of Britain's biggest-ever reading campaign (see lostworldread. com for how to join in and availability of free books at your local library). The Lost Book (thelostbook.net) asks readers not only to write follow-on chapters to a story already begun by Jasper Fforde but to vote for which direction the main story should take, to solve a whodunit, to contribute theme music or even produce a short film on the subject. All of which takes interactivity to levels even Doyle couldn't imagine.

As well as celebrating Doyle, The Lost World reading project honours the 150th anniversary of the publication of Darwin's Origin of the Species, and for the rest of this month Edinburgh in particular is given over to a celebration of these two famous lives, with free exhibitions, talks, storytelling sessions and discussion groups, along with readings, screenings and literary tours. See cityofliterature.com for details.

READ IT AND WEEP

ONE of the four free books issued to support the Lost World reading campaign is the quick read guide for younger or less confident readers.

We'll be hearing a lot more about the need for these on World Book Day next month, but until then, here's a truly shocking statistic. According to government figures last month, some 17.8 million over-18s have poor levels of literacy. Imagine how many lost reads that adds up to …