Saturday, March 5, 2011

London Journal - Literature in Trafalgar Square

"Listen," she whispered, our bodies huddled close together on the cold stone steps. Around us they had been commandeered as seating by so many others, all there for the same reason. Before us lay a crowd stretched to the foot of a stage. A stage laid out with wing-back chairs and a false fireplace, set against a red velvet curtain backdrop. All eyes and ears are focused on the stage because someone is reading.

And the thing to listen for between the melodious sounds of beautiful literature being read aloud, is the silence. Thousands of people fill Trafalgar Square and their common love of books shows in the respectful way in which they listen, heads tilted, to what is being read. They may love it or hate it, have read it a thousand times or never known it was written before this moment, but together they listen.
As a giver for World Book Night I feel extremely privileged. When I collected my box of books last week the excitement began to build. The many emails I'd received prior to the delivery of 'The Life of Pi' barely touched the excitement generated at holding that specially printed book in my hand. Forty-eight copies to distribute in a way of my own choosing.

I brought three copies with me to the opening in Trafalgar. I was one of the first through the gates, holding my arm up so the event staff could see my wrist band. Once inside the fenced off square I inspected my options for seating. Settling on the centre steps facing the stage, I wrapped myself around a steaming cup of tea. As I watched the crowd a familiar feeling filled my stomach. It was a lightness, a contentedness and a sense of belonging. I pondered it only for a moment before realising this was how I'd felt at fourteen when I attended my very first Pride Parade. I was amongst my tribe then and here too. Surrounded by so many lovers of the written word, I felt a strong sense of kinship.

Despite the chill in the air we sat, all of us, and we listened. We soaked up readings by Mark Haddon, Sarah Waters and Margaret Atwood. Eyes glistened with tears as Alan Bennett declared the closing of libraries as child abuse, as it is the children who will suffer for the loss. A gentle laughter rolled across the masses as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, shared a literary account of a hangover.

But the best bit by far was in the giving. It's just begun and already it's incredible to think that no one thought to do this before. The absolute joy which crosses the face of someone who is handed a book for free is undeniably contagious. Their face says it all because you have just given them so much more than just bound pieces of paper. You have given them a window into another world, another's imagination and a whole new discovery.

Happy World Book Night.

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