World Book Night

World Book Night, 2012

April 23rd is notoriously many things: St George’s Day, Shakespeare’s death day (and most probably his birthday as well) and Cervantes’ death day. Just as importantly, though, it is World Book Night.

At [insert text here], we get a little over-excited at the prospect of free reading material. So if you haven’t already checked them out, then go have a look at their website: World Book Night. Because they’re also very lovely people, they’re also streaming their event (held tonight at the Southbank Centre) on their website, so visit later on for some online literary goodness, too. It starts at 7:15, and will be well worth watching.

So in honour of this day of literary joy, yours truly signed up to be a giver. Today, I have handed out 24 copies of A Tale of Two Cities. Only four people refused to take them (two because they’d already read it, and two because they just weren’t interested, and no amount of persuasion could convince them that they ought to be – their loss). One or two people seemed doubtful, but took them anyway. Most people were overjoyed that someone was handing out books. Or, as one recipient put it, ‘giving people free culture’. The best two were the American management students studying in one of the campus cafes at lunch time. When I asked if they wanted a book, one broke out into a massive grin and the other actually squealed with delight. I felt like a literary Father Christmas.

In the back of each of the World Book Night books, carefully selected by Don Paterson, is a Shakespeare sonnet. A Tale of Two Cities contains Sonnet 34 – a very fitting one, considering the dismal weather today (which perhaps was partly what helped me feel like Father Christmas – not only is it cold, but my raincoat is bright red).

I’ve now distributed all my copies of the book, but here’s a little something for those of you not lucky enough to get one:

Sonnet 34
William Shakespeare

Why didst thou promise such a beauteous day,
And make me travel forth without my cloak,
To let base clouds o’ertake me in my way,
Hiding thy bravery in their rotten smoke?
‘Tis not enough that through the cloud thou break,
To dry the rain on my storm-beaten face,
For no man well of such a salve can speak
That heals the wound and cures not the disgrace:
Nor can thy shame give physic to my grief;
Though thou repent, yet I have still the loss:
The offender’s sorrow lends but weak relief
To him that bears the strong offence’s cross.
Ah! but those tears are pearl which thy love sheds,
And they are rich and ransom all ill deeds.

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