Saturday, December 17, 2011

World Book Night

April 23, 2012, will be World Book Night. Until a few years ago, I had never heard of such a thing. But now I'm glad I did. World Book Night (WBN) started in the UK, and now it has arrived on our shores. The people who run this event have selected an array of 30 books. You can see the list here. If you sign up and/or are accepted to be part of WBN, you will select one of those 30 books, based on the fact that you loved it. The fine people of WBN will then arrange for you to receive 20 copies of that book, and on the night of 4/23/12 or thereabouts, you will go somewhere to distribute those books. Why? Because you love the book and you would like others to read it. In fact, you feel passionate about others reading that book.
     As soon as I read about this, I immediately wanted to do it. The catch, at least for me, is that you have to distribute the books to light or non-readers--that is people who do not necessarily gravitate toward books. The idea is, then, that the book distributors become missionaries of a kind, spreading the love of reading. The problem? As part of the application process, you have to propose the place you would go to distribute these books to light or non-readers, and I am having a hard time thinking where that might be.  I mean, we hear all the time about how nobody reads anymore and blah, blah, blah, but where do we go to find a bunch of those people all in one place.
 As soon as I started to try to figure this out, I ran into a myriad of assumptions. I talked to a friend of mine who runs therapy groups for women in the Chicago jail, and I thought that might be a good place. Not necessarily, she told me. Plenty of those women want to read; it's just that they don't have access to decent books. So . . . that's not necessarily the kind of place that WBN is looking for. Then I thought of PADS, the local organization that provides overnight housing and meals. But why would I assume that just because a person is homeless, s/he is a light or non-reader. And even if s/he is, would s/he then want to have to shlep a book around the streets? The high school? People are always saying that young people don't read anymore, but how weird does it seem to go to a well-endowed high school and hand out books? A more likely place would probably be a school or neighborhood on the West or South sides of Chicago, but I need to feel safe going there. I guess that most of the places I tend to go are full of readers.

     I'll be very curious to watch how this event develops and how people choose where to go to distribute and whether it's only me who find the question so complicated.


Thursday, December 8, 2011


I saw an interesting series of articles in the Guardian about the riots that occurred in England last summer. The pieces have titles like "Reading the Riots: Ask the Reason Why" and "Were the Riots about Race?" Not surprisingly, in the immediate aftermath, commentators and politicians were quick to attribute the massively destructive disturbances to race as well as to "common or garden looting or thieving." Now, however, after what sounds like a careful study by journalists in tandem with researchers from the London School of Economics, the understanding has deepened and complexified.
     Although some participants freely admitted taking advantage of the situation to accumulate "free stuff," only slightly more than half the crimes were "acquisitive." The researchers did not find evidence either that rival gangs were behind the rioting; in fact, they found a kind of unity and "morality" among the rioters. Nor, as had been assumed, did the majority have extensive criminal records. Nor should the events be thought of as race riots. Hostility toward police was a big motivator, especially because of their stop-and-search powers. As the overview article concluded . . .
Stop and search powers are used, in some forces, disproportionately against black people. There is a generation of young Muslims whose lives have been shaped by the war on terror. But what unites our interviewees is a sense of alienation. Barely half "felt part of British society". Race contributed to it, but more often it was poverty and a lack of hope. Among our respondents who were not in education or training, more than half were unemployed. Some of them even admitted they had used the riots to vandalise places where they'd been turned down for jobs.
 These ideas interest me, of course, because many of them are at the heart of my novel, Grand River and Joy. I appreciate the closer look into the dark heart of things. As the Guardian piece says, "our research is an attempt to explain, not to excuse."