This is me giving books away in Edinburgh for World Book Night on Saturday 5 March.
I first heard about World Book Night back in December on the BBC’s Culture Show. The idea, first mooted by Jamie Byng of Canongate Books, was to give away a million books chosen by the nation’s literati. Brilliant, I thought, I’d like to get involved in that.
Then I looked at the list and realised that I was not quite the discerning bookworm I thought I was. Between you and me, I had only read one on the list of 25, however it was one of my very favourite books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. I thought I could easily “sell” that title and quickly signed up online to be a giver.
As it turned out, it was a popular choice and I got an email saying I hadn’t been chosen as one of the 20,000 givers. Boo. Luckily for me, the organisation of this rather ambitious project was a bit hit and miss, and over the past month received several emails saying that I might get some books, or not, or maybe I could be a reserve, or not. Hmm. Then on the day before the event I received an email saying some books were waiting for me at Musselburgh Library. Yay.
I called the Library and found the librarians as bemused as I was. I pitched up and they told me that they had had no idea they were going to receive these boxes of books until they arrived. They then discovered that none of the boxes had my name on it, but one was labelled “reserve giver”. They decided that I could have that, so before they changed their minds, I was off with a box of 48 copies of The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.
You will not be surprised to learn that I had never even heard of this book, let alone read it. So I quickly looked it up on Amazon, the 21st century equivalent of Brodies Notes, and prepared to bluff my way through.
When Saturday arrived I realised that I had absolutely no idea if there were any guidelines for giving the books away, if they had to be given out in the evening, or all in one place. I couldn’t find much guidance on the World Book Night website, but quickly turned to twitter where the #worldbooknight hashtag was pinging out updates every second. People were giving the books out at tube stations, shopping centres, up hills, in village halls, outside book shops – anywhere they fancied really.
Then I learned that I should write identifying numbers inside the back of the books so they could be tracked, but I hadn’t been sent any numbers and couldn’t get any guidance on that anywhere. What the hell, I wrote my (twitter) name inside and the place where I gave the book away and left it at that. Apologies to anyone who got one of my books and can’t track it because of the lack of id number.
By early Saturday afternoon I was ready. As I trial run, I took four books to the park with me when I went out with the dog and easily got rid of them to fellow dog walkers. Next location was decided by my partner in crime, Douglas Robertson, who agreed to snap a pic (see above) and swing me round town on the back of his motorbike. We pitched up at The Shore, Leith, where initially I was shunned by a few people, most of whom were foreign tourists. Others were clearly worried that I was trying to sell them something or peddling some happy clappy religion. Hmm. I soon worked out, however, that if I said, “I’m giving away free books for World Book Night” I got a much better response. I even found someone who had already read the book. He didn’t take a copy btw, but was able to give me a great potted review.
Lots of people I gave books to at The Shore, and Frederick’s Cafe, Edinburgh (our second destination) seemed to know about World Book Night, and were delighted to be offered a freebie. I enjoyed lots of conversations about what books they liked to read, how difficult it was to read with a small child in the family, their plans to read more, and how they were definitely going to read The Reluctant Fundamentalist and pass it on.
I finished off my giving at 11pm, rather fittingly I thought, at the Canon’s Gait pub in Edinburgh, where I treated the bar staff, the band and a few punters to my last books. I admit that I saved one copy for myself. Before I went to bed I was already five chapters in. The verdict? The World Book Night people may have problems running a book give-away smoothly, but they really know their books. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a thoroughly engaging and thought-provoking read, and I look forward to giving this last copy away as soon as I finish it. Promise.