Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Choose What You Read

We stumbled upon this fantastic initiative in the 'Financial Times' weekend magazine [4/5 April, 2009]:

"It all started during a night out with my friend Alfie. We got into a passionate conversation about how much we hate the free newspapers - the way they sort of chuck them at you and you don't really want them, but you end up taking them anyway. And then instead of reading a book, every day you're reading about celebrities you never cared about in the first place. You end up on a conveyor belt of information on these people's lives...

For a month we asked everyone we knew to donate books, and at the beginning of February we launched our first hand-out for Choose What You Read. We stick a purple logo on the books' jackets, and a sticker inside where the donor and everyone who reads it can write their name. We ask people to return the books after they have finished with them, either at a hand-out or to a drop-box at the Curzon cinema in Soho. We want this to be circulation, not just consumption. Every first Monday of the month we carry our book crates to tube stations at Westminster, Liverpool Street, Euston, Paddington and Waterloo. We set up next to the London Lite people and shout. "Free Books!" That gets heads turning...

I used to read the free papers myself until I got completely sick of them. 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. This isn't about being high brow. We're not saying we want everyone to read Kafka on the train. If you want to read a tabloid, go for it - but choose one and buy it. Don't just take whatever is pushed at you.

It's quite sad to get on the tube and see the whole carraige reading the same paper. I remember when the novel 'White Teeth' by Zadie Smith came out - everyone was reading that. You could pretty much read the whole book over a few weeks just by looking over somebody's shoulder. That hasn't happened for a long time. You never see everyone reading the new Booker winner, because they're all reading Metro. We're missing out on so much."

(Claire Wilson as told to Meredith Haaf)

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