Celebrate World Book Night once you’re done mourning Shakespeare

Today, 23 April, is known across the world as the day when Harold Bloom traditionally lays a single red rose at the entrance to the Globe Theatre and sighs wistfully, i.e. the date of Shakespeare’s birth and death. As every literary murder truther knows, it is also the recorded date of Cervantes’ death, the very same year as Shakespeare’s (and you thought we had it rough when Princess Di and Mother Theresa died in the same week). In what is either a massively fortuitous coincidence or somehow deliberately planned to commemorate these events, 23 April is also the UNESCO-appointed international day of the book, upon which is celebrated World Book Night, the post-watershed equivalent to the more kid-oriented World Book Day.

Tonight, 20,000 volunteers across the UK have each been given 20 copies of their choice of book from a selection of 20 to distribute for free around their community, with the aim being to engage people who are not regular readers. The manufacturing costs of the books are paid for by publishers and the authors involved waive their royalties for these editions.

The choice of titles is typically eclectic, spanning genres and eras: The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry; Noughts & Crosses by Malorie Blackman; Girl With A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; Casino Royale by Ian Fleming; The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde; The White Queen by Philippa Gregory; A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich; Little Face by Sophie Hannah; Damage by Josephine Hart; The Island by Victoria Hislop; Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay; Last Night Another Soldier… by Andy McNab; The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness; Me Before You by JoJo Moyes; The Reader by Bernard Schlink; Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson; The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith; The Road Home by Rose Tremain; Judge Dredd: The Dark Judges by John Wagner and Alan Grant; and Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterston.

There are also four flagship events scattered across the country: Jasper Fforde, Philippa Gregory, Jackie Kay, Patrick Ness and Jeanette Winterson are at St. George’s Hall in Liverpool; Alexander McCall Smith is in Edinburgh (surprise!) at the Central Library; Sophie Hannah is at Cambridge Central Library; and London’s Southbank Centre has a veritable cornucopia on offer, as Hardeep Singh Kohli hosts, among others, Victoria Hislop, Mark Haddon, Rose Tremain, David Nichols and Andrew Motion.

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