Sign up for our weekly newsletter
Nottingham Castle

World Book Night

10 March 11 words: James Walker
You might think that giving away free books would be easy, but in Nottingham it's like a declaration of war
Yes, but the people of Nottingham don't seem to be as interested... 

You would think that giving out 48 free books would be a relatively simple task, but oh no. Not in our beloved home city. Instead what Aly Stoneman and I perceived to be as a ‘kind gesture’ was instead interpreted as a declaration of war, and on occasion, a personal insult. This may have been because our initial targets were people at bus stops who were clearly so excited at the prospect of all the 'unknowns' the night had to offer, reading was the last thing on their minds.

‘Good evening, did you know tonight is World Book Night?’
‘I don’t like books, youth.’
‘Well maybe you would change your mind if you let us show you what we have on offer.’
‘Like I said youth, I don’t do books. I don’t do religion and I don’t do politics. I just want to get in to town and get hammered.’
‘How about taking a book and giving it to a girl? It might impress them...’
‘The kind of wimmin’ I’m after don’t read, ta’

I’d like to say that this scenario was an embellishment of the truth, a product of the combined active imaginations of your LeftLion poetry and literature editors. But it’s pretty much a word for word account. Other responses included ‘nothings for free, what are you selling?’; ‘Have you nicked them’ and ‘I hope they haven’t funded this out of my council money.’

My favourite rejection came from a man who initially seemed excited at the prospect of World Book Night but this was only because it enabled him to imagine his own dream scenario. ‘Hey, are they doing a World Record Night? Just imagine giving out a million records by 25 artists’. He then proceeded to list who would be in his top 25 and why. This lasted for half an hour.

I suspect that the reason people were so suspicious is because nowadays everyone’s trying to sell you something. In this we were no better, selling the ideology of literature rather than religion or a timeshare. So although our intentions had been to promote reading, by the end of night all we had learned was that Nottingham is the capital of apathy. We both felt immensely proud.

The Sumac Centre was one of three venues we targeted to give out free books.

The book we had selected to give out was The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy. We selected her for three reasons. Firstly, because she’s agreed to support Candlestick Press by writing the forward to their annual Christmas pamphlet while she is Poet Laureate. Candlestick Press are a local publisher who came up with the brilliant ‘instead of a card’ concept so we like to help promote them whenever we can. Secondly, we ran a call for submissions in LeftLion based on Duffy’s collection which produced an offering from the the perspective of Ms. Hood. Finally, and arguably the most important reason, it’s a slim volume and so we knew they would be easy to lug around town. Us hacks at LeftLion HQ have fat guts and thin arms, so a magnum opus such as Midnight’s Children was out of the question.

Some of the good folk of Nottingham had heard of Carol Ann Duffy, such as the man who refused a copy on the grounds that she was a ‘man hater’. I hope that this was based on the theme of her collection although I suspect it may have been because of her sexuality. Whilst another informed ‘I did her at college. God, I hated being at college.’

In addition to (attempting) to give out free books on the street, we targeted three specific organisations we wanted to reward for their hard and noble efforts towards local community. The first was YARD, a youth group based at the New Art Exchange in Hyson Green who are producing a wide range of up-and-coming performers. Next up was a young mothers' group (run by Platform 51) who Aly Stoneman worked with on her Lyric Lounge commission, and last but not least, the Sumac Centre, a cooperative in Forest Fields who have been performing endless social goods long before David Cameron bastardised the term ‘Big Society.’ All were incredibly happy with the free books which helped offset our earlier experiences.

LeftLion weren’t the only ones who got involved in this project. Ann Holloway specifically selected Toni Morrison’s Beloved with the intention of giving it out to young women. The book is loosely based on the life of Margaret Garner and its epigraph reads ‘sixty million and more’, referring to the estimated figure of those who died in the slave trade. Whereas Louise Dobson selected Yann Martel’s Life of Pi which she gave out to international students she works with. The Life of Pi is currently being made into a film which is an incredibly audacious project given that the lead roles belong to a giraffe, hyena and Bengal tiger. So read it before they ruin it...

Ann Holloway gave out copies of Beloved to some pupils at Becket School.

World Book Night was a great concept that has helped to promote literature up and down the country. Perhaps if they decide to do it again they would consider being more regionally specific. Wouldn’t it be great to fund a project that give out books specifically by local publishers, many of whom need the income and PR since first author orders have been drastically cut from library budgets. It is they that need help promoting, rather than the canon. But I’m from Nottingham so I have to find fault in this amazing project. It’s what I learned from the random strangers we spoke to on March 5.

World Book Night's website
James Walker's website


We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now