Last week I was involved as a “Community Volunteer” for World Book Night. This great event isn’t well publicised and fights for recognition on Shakespeare’s Birthday AND St George’s Day. However, it is an inspirational and exciting event for those that love books, reading and storytelling.
The organisation had 1000s of books to give out to people on World Book Night. Their target this year was to engage young men, who apparently don’t read books. I was chosen to give out books, to young men, in the Hertfordshire Sports Village, which is part of Hertfordshire University. I was given 20 copies of Sathnam Sanghera’s book “The Boy with the Topknot”.
For me, this was a great evening. Of course it is always nerve wracking going up to handsome strangers and trying to engage them in conversations about books. However, you’d be surprised at the number of men, who let’s face it, looked like “Jocks”, were actually interested in reading. I had some great conversations; one or two men had already heard about the book; others were going to read it then “Gift it” to their friends. As I use this gym anyway, I was surprise that my trainer Gary was already a real book lover and he almost mugged me for a copy!
What was the highlight of the evening for me? the fact that perfect strangers connected because of books. A number of people said that they were always looking for good books to read, and recommendations were highly valued. Others had specific times when they read – perhaps at bedtime, holidays, train journeys. The enthusiasm for reading a great book – and most of the conversations were about fiction or biographies – was infectious. I couldn’t believe the responses. Of course there were a few people that were disengaged: rather like I am in a football conversation, but I was surprised at how many people loved this pastime. And how many people were so grateful for the ‘gifted book’.
We live in an age where we are bombarded by messages; we can access streamed TV programmes and films on our mobile phones as well as podcasts and kindle books. We can listen to audio books on our phones which allow us to ‘read’ our favourite books in another format. Having access to great books is a powerful way to develop our imagination without resorting to a director’s interpretation of a story. Who hasn’t seen a TV or film adaptation of a favourite book, only to leave disappointed because the director’s view on the story and characters was so different to ours. We are introduced to the power of storytelling. Any good vocal and communications trainer – myself included – highlights the power of story telling and giving analogies when speaking to others. In time we become aware of different styles and voices; and this is great when we are speaking to different people – should I use a Jane Eyre or Bridget Jones style of communicating with this person?
But for me, the most powerful part of reading books is the connection you have with other people. The conversations you can strike up with strangers on the train or cafe when you are reading. Strangers coming up to you saying “I’ve read that book and it’s brilliant” and before you realise, a thirty minute conversation had run, discussing great books and authors. If you haven’t read a book recently (or listened to an audiobook), do: it opens a whole world of possibility and communication!