Why do we give away so many books on World Book Night?


A cynic might reply that the annual million book giveaway on World Book Night is nothing but an elaborate marketing ploy. To some extent they’d be right, but writing as someone who has given books to strangers for the last 2 years I can say it’s much much more than that. Yann Martel, author “Life of PI” said “To be given a book is like being given a ship: you become a Christopher Columbus and there’s no saying what you’ll find across the ocean”


This is me and a colleague book giving in 2011

I’m an avid reader and have been since I was small. Lots of books I just read and forget but some, when they’ve made a real impression, I treasure the name of the author and wait for the next thing they publish, or go back through their complete works. But I find it incredibly difficult to recommend books when I’m asked. Even the act of telling someone your favourite book can be a surprisingly intimate thing to do, like admitting a secret crush on someone embarrassing. I know people who refuse to acknowledge a single favourite, others for whom it changes with their mood or the weather and some whose mind just goes blank when put on the spot. Finding that you share a favourite book or enjoy the same genre of books can seal a friendship – it’s a special thing to have in common and recommending or passing on books can be an ongoing ‘conversation’ especially if you don’t see that friend often – leaving a book with them lasts.

The act of giving lies very much at the heart of World Book Night. The WBN website credits the book ‘The Gift: how the creative spirit transforms the world’ by Lewis Hyde as the inspiration for the million book giveaway. Apparently, we should “read it, let it re-set the way you think and give it to everyone you know who cares about creativity, art, imagination and the exchanges we have every day that transcend commoditisation.” It was that line about transcending commoditisation that caught my eye, because that exactly mirrors the work libraries do. We buy the books and share them within our community, many people will read the same copy of a book without any financial exchange. It’s an increasingly rare method of transaction. One might almost forget that there were ever reasons other than ‘for the money’ for doing things but that’s a library’s USP! It’s free to read the books!

One of the main objectives of book giving is to ensure that the WBN books reach non or light readers. Givers are chosen first based on their commitment to give books to non or light readers and then the answers to the questions of where, why, and location are taken in to account. This means that rather than talking to a friend, when you give WBN books, you mostly interact with a stranger. We all know how lovely it is to receive gifts (especially when they’re a complete surprise, given for no reason whatsoever other than the joy of giving) and we’ve all experienced the pleasure of giving something that really means something to the recipient. When giving books to strangers the initial reaction can vary from disbelief to suspicion, but invariably, when they realise it’s a genuine gift, and that you picked them because you wanted to share something special – they smile! You both go your separate ways with a warm glow and the knowledge that they will pass on the story of your meeting and maybe the book.

Also, April 23rd is a special day. It’s (probably) Shakespeare’s birthday and literary giants Shakespeare and Cervantes both died on April 23 1616. In their honour, the day was chosen as UNESCO International Day of the Book.

It’s also St George’s Day. St George is the patron saint of England, but also of Catalonia in Spain. There, people exchange “a rose for love and a book forever” to celebrate the day – a custom we should bring over here in my opinion! Library staff around the city will be taking to the streets to hand out books, so keep an eye out, or watch for tweets. (#BrightonWBN)

So yes, it’s a marketing ploy, we want you to visit the library more and to read more books; but we also want you to tell your friends all about it. Share what you enjoy. If you discover something in your private inner world something that transcends the every day or just makes you laugh! tell your friends about that – it truly is a gift… or next year signup to be a book giver and tell a perfect stranger!

Susy Baker – Library Officer.

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One Response to Why do we give away so many books on World Book Night?

  1. E Baker says:

    Inspirational, I love to share books too and sometimes when I really enjoy reading a book I want to share my enjoyment of it. It’s good to be able to discuss the books you read. Sometimes it can lead to things you just haven’t thought about or understood in a different way and then it opens your eyes to other possibilities and viewpoints.

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