So tonight is World Book Night, a fantastic annual event, which at the moment appears to be largely confined to the UK and the US.
Nowegians are voracious readers, despite books being, on the whole, pretty expensivem especially compared to what I was used to in the UK. Whilst World Book Night doesn't seem to be much of a thing here, some recent book-related stories from the UK have made for troubling reading, and have shown just how important events like this are.
Stats from poll commissioned by the Reading Agency show that the numbers of males in the UK that regularly read books is declining (although this doesn't really mean complete doom and gloom as it could mean they are reading more online, for example). Far more horrifying are the vindictive and counter-productive restrictions being placed on prisoner's access to books, for which the Justice Secretry, Chris Grayling, is rightly getting an absolute kicking for. You can sign the Change petition, calling for an ammendment to the regulations here.
I love reading. If I could, I would just quit my job and just read books and drink tea all day. I also love the idea of sharing and spreading books. Around five years ago, whilst I was running the Aston Humanist Society, inbetween trying to finish my PhD, I started up a book swap box in the student union foyer, which was pretty successful until someone decided that it 'constituted a fire hazard.' I think I'll start one up again at where I work now (the Høgskolen i Oslo and Akershus); hopefully be a little bit more relaxed about it.
In the meantime, I thought I'd do my tiny bit for World Book Night by marrying two my love of reading and sharing books with my love of science and skepticism.
On my way home from the office today I left this in the main reception:
It's a copy of Skepsis: A Guide to Kritisk Tenkning (Skepticism: A Guide to Critical Thinking) with a note that says
"It is World Book Night tonight!
Take this book for free
Read, learn and share it with a friend once you are finished"
(I later learned from my wife that the note contained two small typos: no 'e' after the 'lær' og 'del' because they should be in the imperitive form; d'oh!).
The book is an excellent primer on critical thinking, put together by two of my friends from Foreningen Skepsis, Norways National Association for Skepticism. It deserves to be read by as many people as possible.
A little cheekily, I guess, I also used the opportunity to do a little promotion for Kritisk masse 2014, the national skepticism conference for which I have the principle responsibility of organising, along with a small band of merry helpers.
I've no idea who has or will pick up the Skepsis book but I hope it finds many happy homes. It's certainly doing more good out in the world than sitting on my self. (Caveat: I'm not completely selfless; I actually have a second copy of the book which is far too precious to me to give away as it was signed by one of my rationalist heroes, Sanal Edamaruku, when he was in Norway last year and we hosted him for lunch.)
Happy World Book Night!