As you may know, today (Thursday 6th March) is World Book Day. Granted, I’m not the main target for this promotion, but I still think it’s a good thing and worthy of drawing to your attention, especially if you have children.
The main element of the scheme is that children (usually via their schools) are given a £1 Book Token – not much use, you might think, but there are nine books which have been published for the occasion, all at the bargain price of – you guessed it – a quid. So kids with the £1 tokens can get a book for free.
Why do I think this is a good idea? Well, not simply because I’d like to be a published writer of books and because I want to feel there are actually going to be people who might be interested in reading them, but because, on a more fundamental level, I think that people being able to read, and wanting to do so for pleasure, is a good thing.
I know there are various celebrities who make odd semi-boasts about never having read a book in their lives, and that the average person reads something like four novels a year (I think it’s higher for women), but one of the reasons I think being able to read a book is something to be aspired to is because, as well as being a pleasant way to while away the hours, reading a novel is a good way to increase your sense of empathy or understanding of other people and their lives.
I’ve never been involved in a kite-flying competition which has led me to cut my hands on the string, or found myself jailed for years for no crime, but I’ve read books which have made me understand how it would feel if such events were to happen to me. A well-written book will make you have a sense of what it’s like to be someone else, somewhere else, often in another time, and I truly believe that this is a positive and enriching experience for any of us.
Add in the fact that reading a novel might increase your attention span, thus enabling you to read texts which might advance complicated theories or cover events spanning decades, and I think you can begin to see why I think people being able to read, and wanting to do so, is a good thing.
A lot of the coverage of the Harry Potter phenomenon has mentioned how the books have increased the number of children who read for pleasure (and I sincerely hope this is the case, though I have a niggling doubt that some children might want the book on its release date more as a status thing, an ‘object of desire’ than for reasons of reading it), and I like to think that World Book Day plays a part in promoting reading, and the accessibility of books generally, in much the same way.
So, if you have kids who’ve been given a £1 token (and even if not), I hope you’ll encourage them to visit a bookshop and pick up one of the specially-produced cheap World Book Day tomes. And even if you’re an adult, you could do worse than to pop into a bookshop over the next couple of days and have a browse. Chances are you’ll find something you like – and if you buy something at this time of year, publishers and booksellers may well see a ‘sales spike’ as being the direct result of the World Book Day promotion, and decide that it’s worth continuing with.
Which would, I think, be a good thing for writers, publishers, booksellers and readers alike. And given how broad the four groups I’ve just mentioned are, I think it would be little exaggeration to say: Everybody wins.