Thousands of volunteers and institutions will be getting involved with World Book Night tomorrow and giving away around 250,000 special editions of 20 different books to people in their communities. While World Book Day celebrates reading specifically for children, World Book Night was established in 2011 as an alternative celebration for adults. 35% of the population in the UK never read for pleasure and World Book Night is about reaching as many people as possible who don’t regularly read, particularly in prisons, hospitals, care homes and homeless shelters. As well as improving literacy and employability, reading has profound positive effects including social interaction through participating in book groups, as well as general well-being and happiness.
When choosing a World Book Night title, the panel of librarians and volunteers are looking for “good, enjoyable, highly readable books with strong compelling narratives”. While very long and/or dense books are not an ideal introduction for reluctant readers, it doesn’t mean that the books which are chosen are very basic either. Whether it’s the style of language used or the themes which are explored, books for reluctant readers can still be interesting and challenging in a thought-provoking way.
Here are my top ten suggestions for reluctant readers (both adults and teenagers):
Misery by Stephen King – Obviously King’s books are not ideal for those who are completely put off by a bit of gore, but classic pacy storytelling and straightforward prose are at the heart of his work and I would recommend his books even for those who wouldn’t normally consider the horror genre. ‘Misery’ was also one of the World Book Night titles given away by volunteers in 2012.
The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe – I recently read Sillitoe’s collection of short stories but haven’t reviewed it. Sillitoe’s plain, vivid prose captures the gritty realities of working-class life in Nottingham in the 1950s. The title story about seventeen year old Smith who discovers a talent for long-distance running in borstal in Essex has also been made into a well-known film .
Whether it’s a psychological mystery like The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith or a fast-paced thriller like Alex by Pierre Lemaitre, plot-driven crime fiction is a good place to start when choosing books with strong compelling narratives. Alternatively, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon and Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer are both highly readable mysteries whose detectives both have Asperger syndrome.
The Night Watch by Sarah Waters – Set in London and told in reverse chronological order starting in 1947 and ending in 1941, ‘The Night Watch’ brings together the stories of four main characters and their experiences during and after the Second World War. Waters is brilliant at weaving in lots of authentic historical detail to her work and balances this well with engaging characters and strong plot twists. This was the first novel I read by Sarah Waters and I have since read all of her books.
I’m Not Scared by Niccolò Ammaniti – I read this book as a teenager and I think it’s a good novel particularly for younger readers making the transition from YA to general adult fiction. It has a very evocative setting in rural Italy in the late 1970s and the story is narrated by a nine year old boy who makes an alarming discovery outside an old abandoned house.
There are many non-fiction titles with strong narratives too. I would highly recommend This Boy by Alan Johnson which is an excellent memoir of his childhood growing up in poverty in the 1950s. Those who enjoy ‘Escape from Camp 14’ on this year’s World Book Night list might also want to try Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick which is another gripping account of life in North Korea.
The 20 official World Book Night titles for 2015 are:
- After the Fall by Charity Norman
- Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M. C. Beaton
- Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb
- Chickenfeed by Minette Walters
- Custard Tarts and Broken Hearts by Mary Gibson
- Dead Man Talking by Roddy Doyle
- Escape from Camp 14 by Blaine Harden
- Essential Poems from the Staying Alive Trilogy, Neil Astley (ed.)
- Honour by Elif Shafak
- My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece by Annabel Pitcher
- Prime Suspect by Lynda La Plante
- Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle
- Skellig by David Almond
- Spring Tide by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind
- Street Cat Bob by James Bowen
- The Martian by Andy Weir
- The Moaning of Life by Karl Pilkington
- The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
- Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
- When God Was A Rabbit by Sarah Winman
Are you participating in World Book Night? Which books would you recommend to reluctant readers of any age?