World Library Night (part 1)

I umm-ed and ahh-ed about volunteering for World Book Night, having read the backlash from a considerable body of writers and organisations about the value of giving away free books. And I agree with them. I think that it is grossly unfair that only ‘star’ authors are promoted – they can afford to give away their books for free – and that lesser known (and sometimes better) authors are left out. I find it odd that short stories or illustrated children’s books didn’t make the list. In spite of this, I threw my name into the hat and will now be giving out The Life of Pi (whilst another volunteer gives away Cloud Atlas) at Huddersfield Library next Saturday. And here’s why…

…when I think of free books, I think of libraries, and I practically grew up in a library. My mum had to work long hours so we were instructed, in no uncertain terms that we had to go straight to Feltham Children’s Library after school, where my mum would pick us up after working her long shifts as a supermarket cashier. She was reluctant, worried for her girls, and so asked the librarians, with her quiet voice and pleading eyes, to keep an eye on us. I was 9 years old and thought it was the most magical place in the world. I loved the soft cushions in the children’s area, the multi-coloured chairs and my favoured seat next to the Geography section – it was next to the door for the adult library. I used to sneak through the doors and look at Who’s Who and the Encyclopaedias. And it was there that my love of books and writing began, later shaping my education and career choices.

So, for me, giving away free books is linked to giving people access to a conducive reading environment and how this access can shape someone’s life. Given the current wave of proposed library closures, I wouldn’t be surprised if many other volunteers use this initiative to show policy makers the vital support that libraries provide for their communities. Even if you don’t take part in World Book Night, please become a member of your local library.

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