Books are on my brain at the moment. I’ve just bought a book from the American WBN list and a couple of the 2012 Orange Prize shortlist. I hover, as ever, over the Kindle version, oh so incredibly cheap. But I can’t do it. Previous e-aquisitions go unread and I like real books. I like them a lot.
Monday is World Book Night “…a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift books in their communities to share their love of reading.” Even more interesting is the panel of readers who chose which books will make the list. But what do they know, thought I.
I was young, once and when I was young I enjoyed the books of Terry Pratchett – all of them, voraciously. So naturally I read Good Omens, which was co-written by some upstart. I don’t remember it very well now, but I recall I thought Terry was better in his own Discworld. Seeing Good Omens on the World Book Night list was a little surprising. It is definitely not cool to like Terry Pratchett any more, yet someone has decided this book will be attractive to a certain demographic. Perhaps, as it was for me, this book will be an introduction to a world of Gaiman for non-readers, and that, I believe, is no bad thing.
I love the idea behind World Book Night and I thought I would put my own wee spin on it. I can’t afford to buy thirty books (time was I’d have had thirty or so spare books at home I could have distributed for free, but my nomadic lifestyle has whittled my collection down to a meagre few) – so I decided to buy five to give out. And I chose to purchase five copies of American Gods*, which I intend to distribute on World Book Night. Isn’t that lovely? Well, yes and no.
The problem with buying a book and giving it to someone else is the same whether it’s a WBN book or a birthday present or an off-loading of surplus posesssions – it can be difficult to match the book with the person. The whole point of WBN is to give a book to a person who would not ordinarily read a book. I don’t know many people like this, so it would be hard to find recipients for thirty books for non-readers. I do know an awful lot of people who love to read books, but just don’t have the time. So by giving them a WBN book (whether one of five or one of thirty) is really not so much a gift as a burden, associated with dusty shelves and guilt. Further to this, in trying to convert someone ignorant of Mr. Gaiman’s brilliance into a Gaiman fan (Gaimanista as we decided to call them), I run the risk of failure. I do not like failure.
I have to think of five lucky recipients for my beautiful books, five people I’ll see on Monday (or who I can post a book to) who fall into one of the following, oddly-specific categories:
a) This person is a non-reader but after decades of not reading will be overjoyed at the gift I proffer (I’ll be drooling slightly and ranting about how wonderful and believeable the characters are even though they’re, you know, gods) – 672pp of fantasy. If you’re going to swim, get in the deep end, I say. Then they say ‘but the book will get wet’.
b) This person is a reader, but doesn’t have time to read, but was hoping that when they do find time to read there will be something different and interesting at hand that they would never ordinarily have bought for themself, but if I’m sure they’ll like it (me, proffering, drooling still, nodding now) then they’ll give it a go. They may be put off – it is rather large – ‘nonsense! you’ll get drawn in to the engima, what’s real, where is it going…’ I’m going to have to be quite persuasive – this lot prefer their literature real and old. And Russian. I can be convincing on this topic, though, (what’s older than gods? Russian gods!) – I love this book – and when I say ‘love’, I say it in that protracted, breathy, needful way.
c) This person wants my book, but then if they want to read it why haven’t they bought it for themselves? I paid for it, why shouldn’t they… the whole point of WBK is converting non-readers. You see I’ve tried to do a nice thing, for the world and for literature. I think if (even) more people like Neil Gaiman the world will be a better place – but then I think that if people agree with me generally, everything, generally, would be improved. These people, who are after free stuff, make me realise that the fun of WBN for me is the thrill of the chase.
A lovely lady at my ukulele group on Monday night (the Butchers Arms, Canton) will be distributing some of her thirty WBN books there. Which would you prefer, my 672pp of fantasy or her 400pp of Misery? Misery is a great book, but I would struggle to convince a non-reader, non-horror fan (despite it’s nuance and again, great character this book is horror) non-King fan to give it a go. I wish everyone sucess with their WBN giveaway, but I can’t shake the feeling there’s a flaw in the plan. Middle class women signing-up to give out free books in ‘their communities’… I’m being negative, for shame!
So – I have five copies of American Gods to give away for free and you can contact me in any of the ways listed (this site, FB, Twitter) to make your case. But, as I am completely independent of WBN and acting under my own initiative, I am insisting upon the following conditions. You may have one of my beautiful pre-loved** copies of American Gods by the wonderful Neil Gaiman IF:
1 – you want it
2 – you read it
3 – you then give it away *for free* to another person who wants it
4 – ideally you don’t read much, but you’re prepared to give it a go, for me
And the optional 5th clause: sign up to WBN next year and bid to volunteer to distribute their books.
Free books! There’s nothing better.
*why American Gods? Well if you must know, I read it soon after it came out and it is my favourite of Neil’s books. I have also listened to the audiobook, which I was not going to mention here as the actual book is the thing, but it’s so splendid I can’t not recommend it. I’ve never been to America but my penchant is for American literature – not Kerouac but Bukowski, J. P. Donleavy, Hunter S. Thompson… This book speaks to me of a whistful America, America in crisis and real people strugging to rationalise their own identity in a world they don’t understand. Somehow the book also speaks to the secular me of gods and mythologies in a way that makes me care about them and want to preserve them. I could say the same of Terry Pratchett’s books Small Gods and think it would be a shame if these books went unread because they choose to unfold ideas and describe characters in a world that is not recognisable as our own. The interwoven (often scrambling) strands of this story fade in and out of prominence and are so alive on the page in front of you one minute, only to be forgotten and replaced the next, as you try to grasp what the next new situation or chain of events has to offer – unity comes, dear reader, but at a price. 673pp of fantasy – can you afford not to try it?
**pre-loved here is the trendy sense which means pre-owned – I have not performed any ‘acts of love’ with any of the copies, although I do really love them, just not like that.