Books? You Can’t Give ‘Em Away

Bryant and May


To celebrate World Book Day or National Book Day or whatever the hell it’s called, I signed a big box of books and took to the streets with them to give them away to passing strangers. It turned out this was more difficult than I’d anticipated. People eyed me suspiciously and asked ‘What do I have to do in return?’ or said ‘I don’t want to pay anything.’ Free Book? The clue’s in the title, mate. So I started leaving them on benches instead.

This went better. People saw what I was doing and waited until I’d gone to take a book, because God forbid they should talk to me. Then I hit a snag in one of our beloved Mayor’s public/private spaces monitored by gorillas with walkie-talkies. ‘You can’t leave that there, mate.’ ‘Why not?’ ‘You just can’t, okay?’ Not quite the exchange of information Socrates had imagined, so I went on my way.

I met a lovely lady who was deeply grateful for a book because she was stuck in a by-election polling station for a day and no voters had bothered to come by at all. ‘It’s a young area,’ she said sadly, ‘they’re not bothered.’

They say talk is cheap and words cost nothing. Mine tip out at £16.99 a pop (hardback), so a free book is a win-win. Finally, by tweeting my destinations, I was able to shift fifty books in an hour. Job done. Went home to write another one.


14 comments on “Books? You Can’t Give ‘Em Away”

  1. Rachel Green says:

    You are a god amongst men, sir.

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    It does have the making of something your* heroes Galton & Simpson could have spun up for half an hour.

    ‘Where’ve you been Sidney?’

    ‘Knocking books out in Kings Cross. Writer there couldn’t give ’em away. I had the lot shifted in ten minutes for a bob each.’


    ‘What you got there Harold?’

    ‘Books, pater. Writer was giving them away free. I got the lot for a nicker.’

    ‘Any good?’

    Harold flicks through Bryant & May and the Burning Man. ‘It’s about old people solving crime.’

    ‘Oh yes?’

    ‘Load of old rubbish. Mind you, looks like Bryant might not see it to the end,’ thinks. ‘You could learn a thing or two there…’

    *Ours too. But it seems churlish to just agree all the time. 🙂

  3. Mish says:

    You are a good person and those who got the books are very lucky indeed!

  4. Wayne says:

    Have they started to turn up on eBay yet? Bet some will…… Signed hard back Collectable £500 thats a bargain for a copy signed and not dedicated…..

    Seriously, I just wish I had been in London to be able to have one of your gems given to me free and signed into the bargain, it would have made my year to meet you and be given a book!

    I’m not sad honest…… 😉

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Oh, my, the author himself wandering the streets offering the result of his midnight toil to casual passersby. Have they any idea how lucky they were to have the chance? You weren’t giving the appearance of a crazed lunatic (that seems somewhat redundant) were you? There’s a lot of that going on. Generous of you, Chris.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    I hear that the 4th plinth is now occupied by the skeleton of a Gift Horse and that Mayor Boris had some interesting comments about the supporting bones under a city.

  7. David W. says:

    What lucky people, what a lovely idea, shame you don’t live up in the North East! Well done Christopher.

  8. George Mealor says:

    Free means no value. I knew a grocery shop owner and he told me about selling evaporated milk for $.33 a can. He would put it on sale for 3 cans for a dollar and sell out.

  9. Vivienne says:

    Yes similar to the last post, a story about someone selling oranges on a market stall. Half were 1/- and the rest 6d. When the shilling ones sold out, he moved half of the sixpenny ones over and sales at 1/- continued. Value judgments can be inaccurate.

  10. m says:

    How wonderful. I would have loved to run into you. To be fair the only people usually offering free things are usually giving away religious pamphlets.

  11. Tim Grant says:

    Sigh. A sign of the times. On the face of it, it seems strange, but unfortunately people have been conditioned to be distrusting (not sure if that’s a word, but you know what I mean (I trust)).

  12. Fiona says:

    I feel your pain. I gave books away two years in a row and never again. First year I went around the shops in the area and gave them to a variety of people working behind the counter and that went relatively well. Second year I approached people who looked at me like I was a mad woman. Some young lads who were very rude, except one who did take one – so I felt like I’d won a small victory. I went into The St John’s Tavern and politely asked if I could give books to the patrons. I was told no and not to bother people. This after explaining exactly what it was. Seriously – how is it bothering people by briefly offering them a free book? I was shocked by their attitude, particularly as I’d been polite about it and asked permission first. That left me with a sour taste in my mouth and I didn’t bother to sign up again.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    We skip the whole problem by not observing International book day (that I know of at least). I gave a book to a girl in Covent Garden a few years ago and she seemed pleased because she had realised she needed something to read while she drank her coffee.
    Giving things away isn’t easy.

  14. LINDA AYRES says:

    Ok what lucky people to get a free signed never in the right place at the right time.
    Mind you a signature does not aways add value…. a few years back I found a signed copy of a book I really wanted in a charity shop.. took it to the counter and the assistant asked for 50p..
    Since it was for charity I felt I had to be honest and pointed out to her that it was signed..
    she gave me a withering look and examined the book… then she signed heavily and said ‘allright then 25p’

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