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Reluctant Readers, World Book Night, And Quick Reads

The 2016 World Book Night logo

Alice from FMCM got in touch with me about World Book Night (this Saturday, which this year coincides with the Readathon) and to ask if I’d like to see a Q&A conducted with some of the authors whose books the volunteers are giving out. I said yes, had a look at the content, and one of the questions – actually, one of the answers – gave me an idea for a post. I’m going to share the answers with you now so we have the context to go on because I’d like to make it into a discussion.

What are 3 books you would give to a reluctant reader?

S J Parris: Talking It Over by Julian Barnes; Dress Your Family In Corduroy And Denim by David Sedaris; The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett.

Sarah Hilary: The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams for its anarchic humour. The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore for its chilling, touching brevity. Honeydew by Edith Pearlman for the sheer joy of short stories.

Leigh Bardugo: The Shadow Hero by Gene Yang. This graphic novel tells the story of the first Asian-American superhero. It’s hilarious, thrilling, and poignant too. Plus, if your reader gets hooked, Gene has a fantastic body of work to sustain that interest. Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older invites readers into a magical New York and takes on themes of creativity, appropriation, and power while never scrimping on adventure. This is a great one for young artists who may not quite believe in their gifts. For younger readers, The Wig In The Window by Kristen Kittscher is a witty, diverse middle grade mystery with an even more charming sequel.

Holly Bourne: One Day – It’s funny, on-point, romantic and sad – with incredible dialogue. There’s a reason the entire London underground seemed to be reading it in 2009. Station Eleven – I’ve been literally shoving this into the hands of everyone. It’s an incredible literary book, but with a gripping premise that will keep anyone up until silly o’clock to get to the end. The Fault In Our Stars – YA fiction is great for reluctant readers as it’s so plot-focused. I defy anyone not to be totally bewitched by this one, and John Green is a great gateway drug into the amazing world of teen fiction.

Ann Cleeves: I’d suggest anything on the Quick Reads list. Quick Reads are books that have been specifically commissioned for people who are new to reading for pleasure. The content is very definitely for grown-ups, but the language is relatively simple and the chapters are short. The scheme has been going for ten years now so there’s plenty for people to choose from. For instance, this year there’s a story by Lucy Diamond about pregnancy, an edited version of Malala’s story and a crime novel by me! I wouldn’t want to recommend specific titles because reluctant readers have their own tastes and preferences like everyone else. Part of the joy of reading is wandering into a library and taking a chance with a book. So instead of giving 3 books, I’d give a library ticket.

Jan-Philipp Sendkar: It totally depends on the age of the reader, the gender, the interests, the personal background so it’s impossible to generalize. I do believe there are books for every reluctant reader, though. Sometimes it is just a matter of time or the right timing. Sometimes it is a matter of finding the right match. One of my children is a very reluctant reader but once in a while, when she finds the right book, very often by accident, never because I gave it to her, she reads through the night. I believe that very often a book finds its reader… and luckily books do have a long shelf live.

A collage of the 2016 World Book Night book covers

Now I actually rather like the reasons the authors gave (I’m all for the John Green, I think that’s a good pick, though I disagree with including the Emily St John Mandel because I think it’s too literary) but it’s the last two answers I like the most and Sendkar’s in particular is the one I’m going to hone in on here (I’ll speak briefly of Cleeves’ at the end because it’s a different subject, though she does end on Sendkar’s note). Sendkar’s answer struck me as a fair response; I think the right book for a reluctant reader is dependent on who that person is.

I wonder if the key, perhaps, is matching potential reader to a particular slice of popular culture, the sort they might like or relate to or be familiar with at the very least, like a child a few years ago might have been more inclined to read the Harry Potter series than a relatively random book their mother loved, albeit that the mother could be right in thinking her child would love it too. Clearly it has happened that way – Harry Potter has brought books to non-readers – but I do wonder if that love of books the recommender has for particular novels can sometimes be a problem.

Here I’m actually thinking of a child trying to get a parent reading or, more correctly, I’m thinking of the effort I went to a few years ago to get my mother reading. She reads reference books and I had just finished my first few Austens and wanted to share them with her. I knew she’d seen Colin Firth appearing from the lake and thought that might be enough context, when mixed with my own enthusiasm, to get her reading it. So I bought her a lovely edition of the book, she read three chapters, and who knows where it is now. I did the opposite of what I do now; I asked her a few times if she’d read it so there were some awkward conversations.

And with that awkward memory, I’d love to know your thoughts on Sendkar’s answer. Let’s not talk any more about my Austen thing…

In regards to Ann Cleeves’ answer I wanted to talk about Quick Reads, the programme she’s involved in and so understandably plugged. I’ve heard a bit about it from Cathy Rentzenbrink from reading her book The Last Act Of Love and possibly also at the blogger brunch. (Rentzenbrink’s the Project Director of Quick Reads.)

Reading about this year’s World Book Night has answered a question I’d had – I’ve seen these ‘Quick Reads’ books and you can’t really get away from Galaxy’s promotions here in the UK (happily in the case of books and not that you’d want to anyway because they really do know how to make chocolate) but I didn’t know what the programme was about. Quick Reads, now a part of The Reading Agency – the literary charity that started World Book Night – is a special line of books commissioned each year. Famous authors write short, easy-to-read books, or they create a collection of stories as the editor, or they abridge popular reads, all in a drive to promote literacy and make books less daunting.

I haven’t got a point on this, I just wanted to share what I’d learned.

Here’s the World Book Night list and after that some questions for you.

  • Amanda Prowse: Perfect Daughter
  • Ann Cleeves: Too Good To Be True
  • Carol Ann Duffy: Love Poems
  • Elizabeth Buchan: I Can’t Begin To Tell You
  • Holly Bourne: Am I Normal Yet?
  • J Paul Henderson: Last Bus To Coffeeville
  • Jan-Philipp Sendker: Whispering Shadows
  • Jonathan Coe: The Rotters’ Club
  • Leigh Bardugo: Shadows And Bone
  • Lucy Diamond: The Baby At The Beach Café
  • Matt Haig: Reasons To Stay Alive
  • S J Parris: Treachery
  • Sarah Hilary: Someone Else’s Skin
  • Sharon Bolton: Now You See Me
  • Stephen E Ambrose: Band Of Brothers

What do you think of the particular books the authors have chosen?
What do you think about what Sendkar says?
What books have you recommended to non-readers?
And are you taking part in/doing something for World Book Night?



April 22, 2016, 5:56 pm

I think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a great choice! I am also interested to see Band of Brothers on the World Book Night list – I have not read it but adored the TV series.

Booker talk

April 22, 2016, 10:55 pm

Sendkar’s answer was eminently sensible to me. Viewing reluctant readers as a homogenous group is misleading – people have different reasons for not wanting to read. It might be down to skill, it might be a question of not being exposed to a kind of book they might relate to. If you think of them as individuals then yiu can tailor an approach to get them enthused more.

Laurie C

April 25, 2016, 5:03 pm

I think the WBN list is a well-rounded one, because I didn’t read the list and think either those are all favorites of mine or those are all ones I’ve been wanting to read. If I did think something like that, I think it would mean the selectors didn’t accomplish what they were trying to accomplish — create a list of books where each appeals to a different type of reader!


May 13, 2016, 3:34 pm

Jessica: Yes, they are good choices, aren’t they? I’ve seen the film of the first and loved it. Not seen or read Band Of Brothers yet.

Booker talk: Yes. It’s interesting placing that answer against the choices the others made because you see them in a new light. Pillars Of The Earth has been acclaimed, but it’s a long book, for example.

Laurie: That is an excellent point! It’s often disheartening almost to read a list and not know them but in this case yes, that’s a good thing. I hadn’t thought of it like that before.



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