By Russel D McLean
Today is World Book Night.
Yeah, who knew?
I’ll be out there hosting a pub quiz on behalf of Million for a Morgue, while other book events will be happening up and down the country (I think its happening in the US as well although I am not aware of the penetration to the public consciousness there), as people give out free copies of 25 publicly voted books.
It’s a great idea, although some might say its one with a few flaws. Not that I’m here to talk about those today, because I’d rather we had a flawed idea to get people reading than none at all. And having already seen changes in the approach from last year, I can see that the organisers are looking to adapt and try to improve year upon year. This can only be a good thing.
My major concern with people who talk about reading is that it is often seen as “self-improving” or “a good thing to do” rather than a fun thing to do. People who will readily discuss movies and TV shows in depth are afraid of discussing books in case they somehow seem stupid. Which is odd given that a great many books currently published are dumber than TV shows like THE WIRE or DEADWOOD or JUSTIFIED*.
Here’s the thing: you should read because you love stories. Its just another delivery method. There’s nothing challenging about it. Sure, you might need to change the way you use your senses, but in the end, the mechanics of storytelling are exactly what you’re used to with TV or film. The stories are still good. You don’t need to worry about what other people think about what you’re reading in the same you generally don’t worry about what people think about the films or TV shows you watch. Believe me, there’s a book – and generally more than one – out there for everyone. Find the ones you enjoy. Search in the same way you would for films or TV. You don’t like a book, you put it down and find something else that’s more up your alley.
The people who do the most harm to books are the people who talk about reading like it’s a duty. This usually starts in childhood, of course, when we’re told to “stop watching TV and do something smarter like read a book”. The idea of reading being harder than other forms of storytelling is as much about societal attitudes as anything else.
Waterstones right now have a leaflet out for parents talking about reading to their kids. The booklet is written in part by Julia Donaldson. In one part that struck me, she talks about how you shouldn’t make out that books are improving or in some way more “valuable” than other kinds of entertainment. And that’s right. Because books – fiction books, at any rate – are just another delivery method for stories and entertainment. Whether we read them on a screen or on paper, they’re no more challenging than any other form of entertainment. And the more we read, the less challenging books will seem, the more we’ll come to welcome the more complex works, because our brains will not be resistant to the preconceived ideas.
World Book Night is a great idea. If you’re a Giver, one of those handing out free books, I applaud you. But please don’t tell those you talk to that the book will “improve” them. Just tell them its entertaining, that it’ll make them laugh, it’ll make them cry, and they’re going to have a ball reading it. Because I’m pretty sure that one of the reasons you’re giving that book away is because it did exactly that to you.
*Yes, that one’s based on a series of books. But its it’s own beast.