Sunday, 5 May 2013

World Book Night Southbank Style

This year I decided to celebrate World Book Night at the Southbank Centre in London. One of my favourite things to do in London, particularly on a sunny day, is to stroll up and down the south bank, perhaps popping into the Tate or spending an excessive amount of time drooling over the tables and tables of books on the stall underneath Waterloo bridge. So when I realised that two of my favourite passtimes, books and the south bank, were converging on WBN I immediatley got myself three tickets and commanded my sister and a friend to book the night off. I can be forceful when it comes to books. In all the months I've been walking along the bank I've never even stepped in to the Southbank Centre or picked up a brochure (massive fail). It does sit right on top of a Foyles so I am generally pretty distracted and twitchy with the need to look at books by the time I get there. Seriously thinking I have an addiction. I'm so pleased I finally made it in to the centre because I pretty much had THE BEST time.

The highlights of the night for me were Mark Haddon and Graeme Simsion's readings and Lemn Sissay performing his poetry. Charles Dance reading an extract from Josephine Hart's Damage was also pretty darn spectacular. I loved Charles Dance as Max de Winter and as Mr Tulkinghorn and he had the most amazing reading voice. I was a bit starstruck. The night was jam-packed with literary royalty including Sebastian Barry, Rose Tremain, Sarah Durant, Tracy Chevalier, Elif Shafak and Victoria Hislop. Each writer managed to bring their novels alive through very short extracts. I think any non-reader would be inspired to start just from listening to the passion that the writers bring to their own work through their readings.

Hardeep Singh Kohli, the host for the evening, was wonderful. His enthusiasm for books and reading was more than evident and he brought a delightful mix of comedy and intellect. After Sissay's energetic performance he reminded us that 'poetry is alive and breathing' and I don't think he could be any more right. My tendency has always been to ignore and neglect poetry a bit but this evening has shown me the error of my ways. Poetry is alive, it is engaging and it is beautiful. The combination of Alice Oswald's reading from Memorial and Sissay's performance demonstrated the variety of poetry that is out there. The two readings were different but both were brilliant.

Running throughout the night and underlying all the readings there was a general exploration of the power of the written word. In her introduction to the evening Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre's artistic director, talked about art being a window and I couldn't agree with her more. I'd also say that art is a door. With each new book, painting, piece of music or theatre that I see it feels like I'm being let into a new room full of new knowledge and new experiences. I think books in particular let you in to this maze of doors and that to me is why books are so important. Books, words and stories forge connections between people and liven up the world. Books are powerful, they can teach you things and make you feel things and sometimes even change the way you see the world. Bit deep? Bit deep.

The one thing that made the whole experience so wonderful for me was my sister's reaction. Liv has never been much of a reader but since I bought her a kindle for Chritmas a couple of years ago she has slowly started getting into it. I love being able to recommend books for her, books that she usually really enjoys. I would make a very good bookseller I think. People would just buy books to escape from my enthusiasm. Anyway, the day after WBN we popped into Foyles (as you do) for a browse. I came out with two books, Liv came out with five. I think listening to the authors reading their own works or the works of others really brought the books alive for Liv and she was so excited to read some of the list. I bought Alice Oswald's Memorial (such a Troy geek) and Liv bought The Girl with a Pearl Earring, Casino Royale, Mark Haddon's The Red House (seriously, when Haddon came on it was my turn to calm her down and stop her squealing out 'I've actually read that book!') and she also picked up her WBN copy of Sophie Hannah's Little Face. With my sister, at least, WBN has achieved it's goal to get more people reading. I already cannot wait for next year. I hope the Southbank Centre do another event and I'm definitely going to apply to be a giver (be warned, people of England, I can get a little too overenthusiastic).

What did everyone else do for World Book Night? Was anyone else at the Southbank Centre?



  1. "I can be forceful when it comes to books." - that's the way to go :D

    Sounds like an awesome evening. Around here World Book Night doesn't get much attention, I think, but I've loved reading what other people did that day :)

    Also well done encouraging the sister to read :)(I just bought a book to my bf for his birthday so yay to us for spreading the love.)

    1. It's the only time I can condone the use of force :)

      It really was awesome. It was so nice to be in that environment, surrounded by fellow book lovers, and feel like you're part of a wider reading network. Pretty darn cool.

      Definitely yay to us! We can make the world readers, one person at a time...(I'm aware I sound like some bookish and slightly nerdy dictator).


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