Thoughts on World Book Night

Some of you will know that I spent Wednesday lunchtime several miles outside my comfort zone at a meal for the homeless billed as ‘the great banquet’. This event is put on every single week for those who spend their life on the margins of society. There is hot food and drink, a small worship service and reflection for those who want it, and practical help such as hair-cutting and form-filling.  Not surprisingly, people were loading their plates up full, and taking portable food for later. Who could blame them?

As I read descriptions in the news today of the world’s first World Book Night, with 1 million paperbacks being given away to the homeless, my mind drifts back to my lunch companions. Will they be queuing for these books, I wonder – or hunting out a hot drink somewhere instead? Some would doubtless welcome the mental and spiritual stimulus of a good book as much as they would a hot meal, but not all.

Christians often celebrate ‘their’ book, the Bible, as food for the soul – and rightly so.  In it there is food for soul and mind in every genre from short letters to long poems. How would we feel about giving this food away to the homeless, I wonder?  William Booth is credited with saying “When you give a gospel tract to a hungry man,wrap it in a sandwich’, but more often we are inclined to choose between the two.

Its probably too late to ‘sign up’ as a distributor for World Book Night tonight, but this has to be the best year ever to give away the best book ever, surely? Furthermore, if we are going to give it away we should probably accompany it with the sort of kindness and genuine human engagement likely to make people read it – since doing so has made us act this way.