The UK iteration of World Book Night, held in April each year and now run by UK literacy charity the Reading Agency, has girded up its posing pouch, squirted some acrid aftershave under its armpits, and announced a very macho, manly list for its 2014 big book giveaway, specifically to reach out (or down) to the 42 percent of men who do not read for pleasure, according to the UK Guardian‘s report on the list.

“In the UK 35% of people don’t regularly read despite reading for pleasure being a globally recognised indicator in a huge range of social issues from poverty to mental health,” notes the World Book Night site. And through the World Book Night edition giver scheme, which attracts supporters to give away copies of one of the 20 books chosen for the World Book Night list, it plans to bring back the love of reading – in 2014 with a list of 15 male authors out of 20, with such testosterone-laced titles as Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB: The Recruit, ex-SAS soldier Andy McNab’s Today Everything Changes, and Peter James’s The Perfect Murder. No danger of being thought a nance with one of those in your hands, eh?

World Book Night may have to work with the population it has in front of it, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be doing much to change or challenge it. As usual with such initiatives in the UK, especially England, this one appears well-meaning but hamstrung by a desperate anxiety not to appear patronizing, and awkward efforts to reach down rather than uplift. And as for that 35 percent statistic, well, where is the “World” in this? I’d be really interested to see the comparables for France, for instance, or Germany. Let alone the Nordic countries, or Asia. This says far more about UK society and education than gender differences ever can.


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