Yesterday afternoon I picked up 48 copies of Kate Atkinson's marvellous crime novel, Case Histories, the first in the best-selling Jackson Brodie series. Until I picked up the two boxes from Debbie at her lovely store - The Bookshop in Kibworth Beauchamp in Leicestershire - it hadn't quite occurred to me what being a "giver" was all about.
But seeing the books has made me realise what a privilege it is to be able to participate in World Book Night, an event which will see one million books being given away to promote the joy of reading. Case Histories is one of 25 books chosen, with 40,000 copies of each printed up. 20,000 givers will start handing those books out tomorrow.
The back cover of the books I have reads: "World Book Night is a celebration of great writing and the power of books and the pleasures of reading".
The timing seems perfect. Reading seems to be under assualt. First the news that the government is to cut Bookstart funding, then cuts in library services are announced all over the country. So this initiative - supported by more enlightened institutions than the barbarians implementing ill-thought out and damaging cuts - comes at a good time. Tonight in Trafalgar Square - as I write in fact - writers such as Philip Pullman, Allan Bennett and Sarah Waters along with celebrities like Suggs and Rupert Everett - are celebrating the written word. I hope that the books I give out - in our local church, at a youth group, at Oakham Rugby Club - allow others to join the celebration.
I feel incredibly strongly about this, and find myself almost surprised at the strenghth of those feelings; that we would all live in a kinder, more generous and more civilised world if more people chose to read, rather than watch X-Factor, play computer games or surfed the internet. There is so much to learn from books: about ourselves, about each other, about the world we live in. And there's so much entertainment. There's nothing quite like that moment where the book takes you away.
That's why I chose Kate Atkinson. I have put a note in each of the books I will be giving away: "I have chosen Case Histories for the power of its story-telling and the insight, wit and human warmth that fills the book. Kate Atkinson makes it very easy for the reader to get completely lost in her narrative, and that's my greatest pleasure in reading: reaching that untouchable place that a great book can take you to, where nothing else matters..."
Case Histories is actually a rather bleak book in many ways, based as it is on the mystery of three tragedies. It takes some of the worst of human behaviour and finds people at their very lowest - after the death of a child. But in Jackson Brodie, Atkinson's singular PI, it has a hero with humility, humanity and humour and that sort of hero can take you a long way. (Guardian review)
It starts a wonderful series of four books, the most recent of which is Started Early, Took My Dog (my review). But the best of the series is When Will There be Good News? an absolute tour de force featuring one of my literary heroines, Reggie, a 16-year-old nanny, and the sort of brave and loyal soul I'd want on my side if I was ever in trouble. (Her character is picked out nicely on this blog: Lyss on Something)
Finally, I'd just like to offer my thanks to the organisers, partners and publishers of World Book Night and I applaud the vision of those who made it happen.