April 23rd is now not only St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, it has also been, for the last 2 years, World Book Night. The idea behind World Book Night is basically to encourage those who love books and reading to inspire others around them with that love. Consequently, one can apply to be a ‘giver’, and is then given a box of books (you can choose a book you love from a list of 20) to give out. I like the idea of inspiring others about literature (after all, that is my job), and I have relished the opportunity to give out copies of books I have enjoyed (for me, this was The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in the first WBN year; I Capture the Castle last year, and The Eyre Affair this year).
The Eyre Affair seems to me to be the ideal book for WBN. Jasper Fforde’s books are sort-of sci-fi, but set in a world where literature is taken very seriously indeed, as it should be. The book blurb says : ‘There is another 1985, somewhere in the could-have-been, where the Crimean war still rages, dodos are regenerated in home-cloning kits and everyone is deeply disappointed by the ending of ‘Jane Eyre’. In this world there are no jet-liners or computers, but there are policemen who can travel across time, a Welsh republic, a great interest in all things literary – and a woman called Thursday Next.’ In this alternative world, then, there is a detective called Thursday, who features in several of Fforde’s books, and so in theory this is a detective novel. But in fact, Fforde’s marvellous and infectious style of writing covers a huge range of ideas, genres, characters and concepts: he plays with the text, with intertextuality, with the idea of reading and how we react to it (for example, getting lost inside a poem – literally, and characters who can jump from one book to another). What I like most about Fforde’s books, however, is the idea that literature is the most important thing in the world: it drives everything – politics, relationships, technology, even war. The unquestioning acceptance that books are so important that they touch every aspect of our lives is very appealing to me, and I am looking forward to giving out my copies of the book (though not until tomorrow, sadly, as I’m sick today).
Like last year, I’m planning to give my books out mostly to mothers of young children. It can be difficult to make time to read with babies or toddlers around, but the right book demands to be read and draws the reader in, so I hope that this one will do just that and give some new mums a break from childcare. This is important not only because reading as escapism is often a very healthy thing, but also because children of reading parents are more likely to become keen readers themselves. So World Book Night is not just about giving out some books: it’s about encouraging present and future readers, celebrating our reading culture, and also supporting our libraries and bookshops. Go and read a book now!