Notes from a Small Island
I began writing this blog whilst suspended over the Atlantic Ocean at an altitude of 38, 000 feet, on a journey from the sceptred isle of England to two small but beautifully formed islands, Trinidad & Tobago for the Bocas Lit Fest - fittingly my World Book Night choice this year is “Small Island” by Andrea Levy. You can browse other books selected for the 2012 World Book Night by clicking this link. Being between here and there is one of my favourite places to write, a perfect hiatus to consider where we have come from and where we are going and it’s also a question at the heart of the Orange Prize for Fiction-winning novel itself. “Small Island”, set in 1948, movingly explores the lives of the Jamaican lodgers that Queenie Bligh takes in, after her husband Bernard is posted to India during the War and she does not know when or if he will return. Along with several thousand Jamaican men, Gilbert Joseph joined the RAF to fight against Hitler but on return to England, he and his wife Hortense find a life far from the grandeur of their dreams.
The gulf between dream and reality is a recurrent theme through many of the World Book Night choices this year, but what’s certain is that there was a dream line-up for the Southbank Centre’s celebrations for World Book Night that (complete with candles and cocktails) featured an exhilarating range of authors in a mammoth reading including Andrea Levy, David Nicholls, Mark Billingham, Iain Banks and Meg Rosoff, whilst writer Hardeep Singh Kohli compered the event. The evening was streamed to libraries across the country.
World Book Night founder Jamie Byng said: “We do actually need stories. The connection between one person and the other is best articulated through a story. We’re here to celebrate books and reading”.
World Book Night saw thousands of people from all over the country and elsewhere in the world sharing their favourite books with strangers and leaving books to be discovered in the most unsuspecting of places. It strikes me that the plane and airport are perfect places to share books with strangers; in these close confines are people from an array of nationalities, all with a world of stories to share. “No man is an island”, wrote John Donne, and books can serve to connect people the world over. What book did you choose this year and where did you leave its small island of stories?