5th March 2011
When Nicola Morgan suggested an alternative idea for World Book Night,(http://helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com) I thought it was a fantastic idea. She suggested that we buy a book, preferably from an independent book shop, and give it to somebody, anybody, a relative, a friend or even a stranger. I particularly liked the stranger idea. I vowed to gift a book on the said day, which fell on a Saturday. On that day I would be travelling from Hartlepool to my home in Scotland. With an hour to wait at Newcastle station for my connection, I thought it would be perfect for this giving to take place then. I pledged my contribution on Twitter and Facebook.
On the day itself, I went to WHSmith in Hartlepool to buy a book. There are no independent bookshops in the town and this store is under threat of closure so I thought I would do my bit to help keep it in business.
Confronted by scores of bookshelves, I found it difficult to make a choice. What sort of book should I pick? What sort of person would I give a particular book to? What would I like? It was hard! I ended up buying four books.
I’ve been hearing a lot about Jackson Brodie lately and twitter is full of talk of Kate Atkinson. So are various writing places where I hang out on the internet. I picked up two copies of Started Early, Took my Dog, Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka, and an earlier Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn.
Now all I had to do was gift the books.
I sat and had a coffee and wrote on the dedication page the statement Nicola suggested ‘Given in the spirit of World Book Night, March 5th 2011, and bought from WHSmith, Hartlepool. Please enjoy and tell people about it.
So who would be the first victim? And it was then that I discovered the psychology of book-giving. What sort of person would like one of these books? Would they read it? Would they accept it? Would they think I was mad? I temporarily wavered.
After browsing the tables, not finding a suitable person, I finished my coffee and set off through the town centre.
I discarded various people, one by one, selective picking. How terrible.
Oh – she would do! But she walked on past me and was lost in the crowd.
Then I saw them. Two ladies in animated chat. Older than me, but probably not as old as my mum was. I imagined myself and my friend, in ten or more years time, engrossed in conversation about grandkids maybe, moaning about our men or lack thereof, the price of clothes ...
‘Excuse me,’ I thrust the book, Two Caravans in one of their hands, ‘in the spirit of world book day, please accept this book. I’ve written inside ... something ...’
They beamed, said, ‘Oh! Thank you.’ And seemed pleased.
I smiled in return and walked off in a hurry, lest they should come after me and give it back. Then I relaxed and as I entered the car park, I felt quite emotional. Good. It was a good thing to do. I looked forward to Newcastle and the next one.
I duly took my connecting train and perused Twitter on my journey. I saw other people talking about giving books. Lucy Coats said she was on a train and four people had refused her offer of a book. I was surprised, a bit hurt, I didn’t understand. I asked if she was going to be on my train. She said she was on the way to Edinburgh.
My train stopped there on my journey.
A few tweets later, we found out that we would be in the same carriage, in the same direction. On the same train! Hurrah!
Slump. Not hurrah. Hers was the train ten minutes before mine and it terminated at Edinburgh and I was travelling further so I couldn’t even jump aboard.
Then I had an idea. If she poked her head out of the door, I could give her my book – would she like it?
Oh yes please! came the reply.
Fantastic! It truly was. We planned the exchange and soon her train was pulling in. She jumped off. I grabbed my case, my laptop, my handbag and screeched at a woman who I thought fitted the description she gave. I was so glad it was her! For a fleeting moment I thought she might not be...
We hugged, we smiled, I gave her the book, and we took pictures. She had to climb back aboard and off she chugged in a genie puff of smoke ... not quite but that’s the fantasy. As she describes here http://www.scribblecitycentral.blogspot.com/ – it was a brief encounter and it made my day.
I took my own train ten minutes later and nobody perused my carriage giving books. I was a tad disappointed but I was still smiling, giggling to myself, and reading Lucy’s blog when she posted it up on twitter. People had been following our exchanges, will they/won’t they. I almost wish I’d been an observing. But it was much better taking part.
My husband and youngest daughter collected me from Pitlochry train station and we called in to see some friends at the Inn in Grandtully. I gave my third book away, the one I wanted myself. It was to my friend who listened, ears pinned to the wall, whilst I regaled her with the tale of when I met Lucy Coats today, on World Book Night. She told me of the time when she worked in a once-known book chain and mistook Ian Rankin for Iain Banks - an unforgivable mistake, she said, shaking her head. So I gave her the third book. To forgive her, though I wasn't the one to forgive, for understanding her embarrassment for I had things to be embarrassed about, for being human because we all are. And that's all we can do. To understand. And to give what we can, when we can.
She said she'd let me read it when she'd finished. That's good enough for me.
I enjoyed World Book Night and I promise to do it again next year. And every year thereafter. But this one will take some beating.