TONIGHT is World Book Night, when volunteers give away a million books for free to encourage people to read more. We asked some of them, from all around Scotland, what titles they have chosen to give, to whom and why
By now everything should be ready. Up and down the country the pallets of boxes will have been unloaded to libraries and schools and about 2,000 Scots will be calling in to do their bit for the world’s biggest book giveaway. Throughout Britain a million books will be given away for World Book Night – half of them directly to hospitals, prisons and care homes, the rest by 20,000 volunteers in local communities.
In Scotland, as elsewhere, volunteers will be picking up two dozen copies of a book they would like to share with friends, work colleagues – or even complete strangers. Publishers have compiled a list of 25 recommended titles, mainly fiction, which they hope will reignite and reinforce the nation’s love of reading. Why tonight? Not only is today the anniversary of both Shakespeare’s birth and death – but there is also a tradition of giving books on 23 April that began centuries ago in Castille, where Spanish men and women exchanged gifts of books and roses.
These days our reasons for giving may not necessarily be so romantic. It may be because we want to share a passion for a favourite author, inspire a younger generation to read or simply make books more accessible in remote parts of the country. There are as many reasons to give as there are givers. Here, in a snapshot of literate Scotland, are some of their stories:
Home: Ollaberry, Shetland
Job: Crofter and housewife
Which book? The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger
To whom? Parents and teachers at the local school
Why? I don’t have any private transport so I’m reliant on the local library van coming round – though due to illnesses, holidays and mechanical breakdowns that might only be once every couple of months. For World Book Night last year I gave Stuart: a Life Lived Backwards. That’s a book about someone who is homeless and has problems with drugs and petty crime: nobody sees that side of life here in Shetland. This year I’m giving The Time Traveller’s Wife which explores time travelling in a non-science-fiction way, looking at its effects on people, their lives and their relationships.
Job: Former Bishop of Edinburgh , now retired
Which book? The Road, Cormac McCarthy
To whom? Prisoners and the homeless.
Why? Reading the books in my local public library that helped to change my life and I believe that books continue to have a unique power to transform lives, as well as giving us much pleasure. That’s why I think World Book Night is a wonderful idea. I have chosen The Road not because it’s a brilliant dystopian thriller about human folly – which it is – but because it is also about a father’s love for his child, a love that is so courageous it breaks the heart.
Job: Malt Salesman
Which book? The Player of Games, Iain M. Banks
To whom? Holidaymakers, colleagues and youngsters.
Why? In the Cairngorms we have times when you need to be able to just sit back and enjoy a good book and watch the bad weather outside. I’ll try to identify different people in the area who will enjoy it and who I know will pass it on to other people in a wider and wider network. Everybody knows Banks’s The Wasp Factory, but I think this is probably a side of his writing that is more hidden.
Home: Portree, Isle of Skye
Job: Runs a B&B and is a psychological therapist.
WHICH BOOK? The Damned United, David Peace
To whom? Young men and radio listeners
Why? Traditionally women are more likely to read than men. Boys tend to lose interest in reading by the time they get to 16 or 18 they are much less likely to pick up a book than a young woman. A book like The Damned United might make them think that actually a book could be about something that is of interest to them. Actually, if the book had been about shinty we’d probably be much more successful but with Ross County being promoted to the SPL this may be a good time to be launching this! I work on local radio and I’m going to be on the sports show to do a quick interview and give out books to listeners who ring in.
Which book? The Road, Cormac McCarthy
To whom? Fathers and sons
Why? I decided to apply entirely based on the fact they’re giving away The Road because it’s an exceptional novel about a father and his son. I’m a father with a son too and one of the things that struck me about it was the way it highlighted the basic paternal protective instinct. The novel is a tragedy but at the same time the reader can feel really uplifted. My little boy’s bookshelf is completely overflowing but I know that it’s not like that everywhere. I want to go into the pubs and clubs and talk to people – fathers and sons – and give them the opportunity to read a dark and interesting book.
Job: Mother and part-time bookmaker
Which book? The Damned United, David Peace
To whom? Customers
Why? I’m going to hand some out at the bookies I work in. The most I see any of my customers reading is the Racing Post. I thought if I chose something sport-related like The Damned United it might appeal to them and I could maybe encourage them to read something else as well. I already have various people who have expressed an interest in giving it a try. Most of them are guys, which is nice because I don’t know many guys who read. I think they get it into their heads at a young age that reading is a girl thing. I’m always trying to encourage my husband to read but my three-year-old son loves books so I’m trying to encourage that.
Job: English Teacher
Which book? A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
To whom? School pupils and locals.
Why? Last year I was out for a drink in Aberdeen on World Book Night when someone gave me a copy of David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas. I couldn’t believe someone gave me a book for free. I was thrilled because literacy is a massive thing. I work in an inner-city school. There are no Dickens’ books at all and a lot of our kids haven’t even heard of him, which is ridiculous. Giving a book to kids is a massive deal for them – six or seven quid for a paperback these days is a lot if they’re not that into it. I’m forever telling the kids that reading will help with all of their subjects but if I can actually give them a book and say, “this is a brilliant story, go and read it,” some of them will.
Home: Glendale, Isle of Skye
Which book? Touching the Void, Joe Simpson
To whom? Crofters
Why? Last year I gave a book which was quite romantic – Gabriel García Márquez’ s novel Love in the Time of Cholera – and because that was bordering on the feminine side I wanted to balance it up with a more macho, mountain, rugged vibe, hence Touching the Void. When you’re crofting up here the chaps tend not to read. The day to day is spent working with animals – it’s quite arduous. I felt that was something that would appeal about this book, the endurance factors and weathering the conditions. Touching the Void will put things into perspective in the glen.
Home: Lochgelly, Fife
Job: Library Assistant
Which book? Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier
To whom? Local mothers.
Why? Rebecca is one of my favourites. My plan is to go to the mother and toddler groups at the local nursery and to the baby clinic to give them out to mothers. I work in a library so I always talk about books but going to these places it seems like nobody in the area talks about books or seems to read very much. I thought it would be good to give them out and start them reading – at least start them talking about reading, anyway.
Home: St Johns Town of Dalry, Dumfries and Galloway
Job: Project worker for the Reader Association
Which book? The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
To whom? Pub-goers
Why? Franz Kafka said: “A book must be like an ice axe to break the frozen sea inside us.” That’s why I believe in the power of books. I chose The Alchemist because, when I first read it, I thought it was a very transportive book. We all need hope in our lives, particularly with the recession, and we need to believe that things can change. My plan is to go to Castle Douglas and some of the pubs and target people who I think will benefit from reading a book like The Alchemist. We are becoming an increasingly isolated society and having the ability to share what you’re reading is really important.
Job: College Lecturer
Which book? The Remains of the Day, Kazuo Ishiguro
To whom? Students
Why? I read The Remains of the Day after I saw the film. I’ve read lots of Ishiguro’s other work but I thought this would be easy as a starter book. Uncountable numbers of my students tell me they don’t read: what they mean is they don’t understand literature, so it’s important to foster that appreciation. The place I teach is quite socially deprived and people don’t have access to books. If I can give a book to each of my students, that would be great. What I’m really hoping for this year is someone coming to me and asking for me to recommend more novels, either by Ishiguro or in the same vein.
Job: Director of Grant Funding Services
Which book? Room, Emma Donoghue
To whom? Local mothers
Why? I tend to only keep books that made an impact on me and I give everything else away. Room – about an abducted woman and her son – has stayed: it is shocking but also fascinating. It was just one of those books that stuck with me. I don’t think Room will be a hard sell to the people I’m going to give it to – mothers – and people who are naturally interested in children. It could be read in one sitting if there were no interruptions. I’m hoping the people I give it to have the same desire I had not to put it down.
Job: Youth sports volunteer
Which book? The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
To whom? Young people
Why? The Alchemist is the only book I have ever read twice. It’s the kind of book that you can take your own message from. A lot of people would relate to it for different reasons whether it be a personal, physical or emotional journey. I run a youth sport leadership programme and I’m constantly shocked when I see their writing ability. A part of that is they aren’t reading. We’re having a full day event. We’re going to hand out some books and there will also be a small book-swap area. We’re hoping that by the interaction they’ll read the book, bring it back and it will spark them off to consider other books to read.
Job: Tour guide
Which book? The Book Thief, Markus Zusak
To whom? Local people
Why? This book stuck with me for a long time. It’s set around the Holocaust and narrated by Death. When you first explain it to people they are unsure, but it’s fascinating how Death dips in and out of the character’s life. World Book Night is about making books more accessible to people. Last year people came from all corners of our rural community. What I’m doing this time is giving some of the books to our book club members first, letting them read it, before all 15 of us can spread the word and hand out the book around the community.