Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Choose What You Read

choose what you read

An interlude from academic posts.

I took part in Choose What You Read yesterday — a bunch of great people who would like to see people read books on the Tube rather than freesheet newspapers.

Why are freesheets bad? There was a great interview with Claire Wilson in the FT Weekend that explains it better than I could:

They’re just designed to depress, scare and sedate you. Page after page, there’s nothing but paedophiles, stabbings, murders and drunk celebrities. People end up believing that every 16-year-old in a hoodie is going to stab them. After a while you begin to feel that the world is a terrible place and the best thing to do is buy a ready meal, stay at home with a bottle of wine and live vicariously through celebrities. These papers aren’t simply annoying, they’re quite harmful

I’ve been ranting in a similar fashion ever since I moved to London, and got a bit sad everytime I saw a Tube carriage full of people reading the same trash. It makes you smile to see even one person reading a book, no matter what it is. The Guardian Books Blog had a piece on this a year ago. Then there was the utterly incomprehensible marketing strategy of thelondonpaper:

So, when I found the Facebook group on Friday, I emailed Claire right away and asked if she needed volunteers. A couple of days later, I’m hoiking a load of books I’d been meaning to get rid of to Liverpool Street:

I met a friendly bunch of volunteers, a nice cat, and started stickering my books. We put a Choose What You Read circular purple sticker on the cover — branding your non-profit start-up is crucial! (The purple resonates with the colour scheme of the London Lite and thelondonpaper; we repurpose it for a more egalitarian end.) We also put a little history sticker inside the front cover. This explains the project, and has a space for us to write in who donated the book. Then the idea is, once a commuter gets the book, they read it, write their name in the reading list, and give it back to us, and the cycle starts again.

I teamed up with two volunteers and headed to Euston with a suitcase and two bags of books. We set up outside a statue in front of the station, and started hawking our books to anyone who was interested. A lot of people walked straight past us without looking at us, a few rubbernecked, but once we started making eye contact, we got some bites! Inviting people to rummage in our box of books seemed to be the best tactic, and once they’d asked two or three times “Are they really free?”, they found the one they wanted and were merrily on their way.

The hurdle seems to be convincing people that there’s no catch. We love books, and want to see more people reading. It’s that simple.

Want to help out? Volunteers are always welcome, and obviously books are always needed! There’s a drop point in the Curzon Soho just now, and look out for more being announced soon on the website.

There’s also a donation link on the Choose What You Read website — to help with stuff like printing more stickers for the books, and the eventual aim of becoming a more centralised and efficient project. At the moment it’s a lot of fun to trundle around the tube with a suitcase full of books and the purple lollypop sticks, but there’s the potential to reach a lot more people with a more professional organisation.

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