You have to give people their due. In this world of scammers, con artists, fraudsters and hoodwinkers, the ‘too good to be true’ message certainly seems to have got through. It is well nigh impossible to give something away free, without charge, no strings attached.
Tuesday 23rd April was ‘World Book Night’. One of the events that mark this annual celebration of all things ‘book’ is a mass donation of free fiction novels to the public at large. It is the third year that I have volunteered to be a ‘book giver’.
In the first year of book donations, we, the ‘givers’ had 40 copies of our chosen book to give. This was a tall order. I’d selected Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, a novel which I’d stumbled upon on a shelf of discarded paperbacks in a hotel in The Gambia-an unlikely find, but one which I’d been thrilled by. It led me to read many more of Ms Atwood’s works. I am always evangelistic about novels I’ve loved, boring the pants off anyone I meet about them-hence my enthusiastic approach to book donation. The opportunity to give away 40 copies of a book I’d enjoyed so much was irresistible, so I was somewhat dismayed by the luke warm reaction of many. I attempted to give copies away to local care homes and hospitals, where the reception varied from reluctance [‘er, alright-just leave them there’] to alarm, [NO-we don’t need BOOKS!]. I managed to get some of my neighbours to accept a copy with one outright success, a convert to Atwood, like myself.
Last year I opted for a classic-‘Rebecca’ by Daphne DuMaurier. The number of books dropped to a more reasonable 20. I distributed them to groups in the community without too much trouble, although this was taking the path of least resistance.
This year I chose Sebastian Barry’s excellent Irish tale, ‘The Secret Scripture’, written in the most beautiful, poetic style and documenting an astonishing and harrowing series of events in the life of an elderly woman. I loved it and wanted everyone else to. Thinking I should make more of an attempt to follow the World Book Night instructions I set off to give the books out to as many complete strangers as I could find, and since it was a warm, sunny day, striding off along the promenade by the beach.
I homed in on my first victims outside the beach café; two women at a table.
“Can I offer you a book to read?” I asked them. “It is completely free and a very good story.”
“No! I don’t want a book. I’ve got a Kindle-look!” The woman held it up in triumph, as though she’d beaten me in some kind of competition.
I kept smiling. “Yes, I have a Kindle too,” I said. “But you would have to pay for your download and this is a freebee.”
She stalked off, leaving her friend to do me the courtesy of kindly accepting the free novel from me. It was a long morning, nevertheless amongst the suspicion, rejection and cold shouldering I did enjoy one or two jolly, book related conversations and a couple of people were genuinely thrilled to be given a brand new paperback to read.
I wonder what the titles will be next year?