The sports pages of the newspapers this week have been dominated by Kevin Pietersen and Roy Keane both making controversial allegations about their former team mates. Of course, it‘s probably no coincidence that Pietersen and Keane both have books published this week. The timing is significant as the run up to Christmas is an absolutely critical for booksellers, with some reports suggesting that a third of all the books sold each year in the UK are bought as Christmas presents.
These days many of us read books on hand held devices rather than on paper, and more of us are buying our books online rather than in our local bookshop, but the fact remains that books are still an important feature in many people’s lives.
Several years ago I managed a campaign called One Book for Stevenage which used books as a way of bringing the community together and developing a sense of civic pride. The initiative was run as a partnership between the local authority, local school and colleges, bookshops, libraries and a range of community groups.
Each year we selected a popular book and then organised a series of competitions and events themed on that book. For example, Alexander McCall Smith’s ”Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” led to us staging a concert by an African choir and hosting a number of talks by authors of crime fiction.
Sadly, the pressures on public sector finances have meant that schemes such as “One Book for Stevenage” are no more. In addition, some Councils are using the economic downturn as an excuse for closing libraries, although thankfully others are being more far sighted. For example, the newly refurbished central libraries in both Manchester and Liverpool have been enormously popular and host a wide range of activities.
Part of the problem seems to be that many Councils mistakenly believe that books are too middle class and elitist. This is nonsense. As the crime novelist Ian Rankin pointed out, if you visit even the most disreputable of pubs in Scotland you will always find a man sitting quietly in the corner with a pint in one hand and a paperback in the other.