This week I became aware of two very different projects whose purpose is to spread literacy and reading to those who might otherwise be overlooked or neglected. The first of them is the brainchild of the so-called ‘bad boy of books’, Jamie Byng, second son of the 8th Earl of Stratford and managing director of Edinburgh-based publishing house Canongate. Byng rose to fame when, after joining Canongate as an unpaid volunteer, he bought the company from the receivers, before persuading the little-known author Yann Martel to let Canongate publish his novel Life of Pi. The following year it won the Man Booker prize, earning Canongate millions in the process. Further success was to follow when he bought the rights to two books by the little-known Chicago lawyer Barack Obama, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Byng’s latest idea is World Book Night – March 5th 2011 – when 20,000 members of the public chosen from applicants to the WBN website will give away 48 copies of their favourite book chosen from a list of 25 titles. Potential ‘givers’ are asked to describe how, and to whom, their books would be given, and preference will be shown to those who promise to reach the most needy. With traditional publications under threat from Kindle, iPads and ebooks generally, Byng is presumably hoping that the great giveaway will encourage people to go out and buy more books. I’ve already submitted my application.
Around the same time as I was completing my online application for World Book Night, I received an email from Ruby Veridiano of Litworld, a not-for-profit organisation which does some amazing work in promoting literacy in some of the poorer areas of the world. For the month of December, Litworld’s focus is on their annual Holiday Book Drive, sending books to Liberia and Sierra Leone, where most children have never seen, far less owned, a book.
The idea is simple: people donate children’s picture books, sending or bringing them to one of three drop-off points in New York. LitWorld, in partnership with The International Book Bank, will fill a 20ft container with the books (around 3,000 are needed) and ship them to Liberia and Sierra Leone. There, the books will be put straight into the hands of children. Some of these children will never have seen a picture book before; normally, on average, one book is shared among 75 children.
Two very different projects with a common aim. Support them if you can.