It is an indisputable fact that reading is good for us. Reading builds understanding and empathy – ‘We read to know we’re not alone’ (William Nicholson). Reading even makes us live longer: researchers at the Yale School of Public Health found that people who read for half an hour a day over several years lived two years longer on average than those who didn’t read. Reading is an escape, a release and a comfort. Books are, as Stephen King wrote, ‘a uniquely portable magic’.
I am always delighted when I come across news stories in which reading books is encouraged and promoted, and readers are rewarded.
At the end of March, the Independent reports, readers in the Netherlands could enjoy free train travel across the entire rail network. All they needed to do was show the ticket inspector the novel Jas Van Belofte, which they received free as part of Boekenweek (Book Week) when they bought another Dutch-language book in a bookstore or signed up to a library. Reading is, of course, a popular pastime on a train journey, so this was a good combination.
Over in America, Readers’ Digest highlights an initiative called Bedside Reading, whereby publishers give books to hotels. Guests find a new novel in their room – often an advance copy of a novel not yet available to buy in the shops – and are welcome to read the book and keep it, or pass it on. It’s excellent marketing for the publisher, a nice little touch for the hotel, and a wonderful gift for the guest.
How about a free book with your meal? Also stateside, a restaurant in Connecticut allows its customers to choose up to three books to take home. According to Mental Floss, Traveler Food and Books gives away around 100,000 free books each year. Initially, the books were overflow from the owner’s home library, but now the books are donated by libraries and community groups.
Meanwhile, the French company Short Édition has installed short-story vending machines (called Short Story Dispensers) in France, Hong Kong, the USA and, most recently, London, England. The stories are printed on demand at no charge to the reader. The idea, according to the Short Édition website, is to offer a ‘serendipitous literary experience’; to ‘provide people with literary experiences in unexpected places: from train stations to libraries to cafes, hotels, universities and Francis Ford Coppola’s wineries…’
At a time when the news is frequently depressing, I think it is wonderful that we have stories like these. There is a quiet movement underway to celebrate, share and promote reading. In a crazy world, here is sanity, beauty, generosity and togetherness.