Every year across the UK and Ireland, The Reading Agency celebrates UNESCO's International Day of the Book with World Book Night, in which volunteers give out books to individuals who do not read for pleasure or own books.
It's a wonderful idea that is, unfortunately, slightly compromised. World Book Night is not in a position to select and purchase titles to give away; instead, publishers offer, and pay for, titles to be distributed. See if you can spot the issue in this list of the 15 books that will be given away in 2016:
Am I Normal Yet?, Holly Bourne (Usborne)
Band of Brothers, Stephen E Ambrose (Simon & Schuster)
I Can’t Begin to Tell You, Elizabeth Buchan (Michael Joseph)
Last Bus to Coffeeville, J. Paul Henderson (Oldcastle)
Love Poems, Carol Ann Duffy (Pan Macmillan)
Now You See Me, Sharon Bolton (Transworld)
Perfect Daughter, Amanda Prowse (Head of Zeus)
Reasons to Stay Alive, Matt Haig (Canongate)
Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo (Hachette Children’s)
Someone Else’s Skin, Sarah Hilary (Headline)
The Baby at the Beach Café, Lucy Diamond (Pan Macmillan)
The Rotters’ Club, Jonathan Coe (Penguin General)
Too Good to be True, Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan)
Treachery, S. J. Parris (HarperCollins)
Whispering Shadows, Jan-Phillip Sendker (Birlinn)
While Nikesh Shula praised World Book Night and its efforts to include a range of different genres, he also criticised its list for being completely homogenous in terms of minorities: it does not contain even a single Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic writer. While bringing people closer to the wonderful world of books is a laudable initiative, failing to offer diversity of genres or authors falls short of swinging the door open to a lifetime of reading for the 36% of the UK who aren't inspired to read regularly.
The good news is, this was not a thoughtless oversight on the part of World Book Night. As project manager Rose Goddard explained, she and her colleagues "have been struggling" with the issue, and "[i]t is with great shame, and with huge regret" that there are no books by BAME authors on the list this year.
The bad news is that the homogeneity of the list is the result of a pervasive lack of diversity in the UK's publishing industry, as recently documented by Spread the Word. This will require much more work than simply tacking some names on a list, but Spread the Word has some recommendations for a diverse workforce within a decade, including banning unpaid internships, forging strategic partnerships, and learning from best practice within the media industry.
World Book Night also has a plea: "Let's keep talking and work together to make [diversity in the publishing industry] happen."
What's your take?