Bookworm: Free books and open secrets

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Half a million free books – good ones too – 20,000 volunteers to give them out: you can’t say there’s anything remotely small-scale about World Book Night on Tuesday.

In Scotland, we have 1,395 of volunteers them, the overwhelming majority of them living outside the six biggest cities.

This year’s list is more accessible than ever, with four YA titles, one Quickread and a graphic novel among the chosen 20 titles. They’re also going to be distibuted even more widely than on previous years, with 100,000 ringfenced for places such as hospitals, shelters, care homes, community centres and prisons.

In Edinburgh, the flagship event is at the Central Library at 7pm, where – although plans for a fancy dress James Bond Night have been cancelled (Casino Royale being one of the 20 giveaway books) – Alexander McCall Smith will be talking about his books (The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is also on the list in both the UK and the US) with Peggy Hughes.


How did Borders Book Festival director Alistair Moffat, a man not particularly known for his golfing prowess, manage to pull off the masterstroke of luring up Peter Allis, the “Voice of Golf” to Melrose just before the Open comes to Muirfield?

The story goes back to St Paul’s Cathedral on 20 December, when a service was held to celebrate the 600th anniversary of St Andrews University. Allis, an honorary graduate of the university, was there to give one of the readings, Moffat because he is the university’s rector. Moffat noticed that Allis looked uncomfortable after he had given his reading and asked him if he was alright.

When Allis replied that he had a dead leg, Moffat said he’d take him to the hotel nearby and buy him a whisky.

“But because I don’t know London,” Moffat pointed out, “I went out of the cathedral by the wrong door, so we had to walk all the way round it, him limping along with his dead leg, and we had a good old chat – about, as it happens, Bill MacLaren, that other commentating god.

“‘You must come up to Melrose,’ I told him, and he said ‘Oh now, my travelling days are over’. I said ‘Oh no they’re not, and I’m not even going to take you into this hotel unless you agree.’ And he did and he’s coming and he’ll be fantastic.”