Aberystwyth small shopkeepers are in turmoil. They've let their usual scapegoat of charity outlets (paying reduced rates and inflated prices, apparently) scarper round the corner. In the sights of local independent bookshops (and certain UK chains, to be fair) now is World Book Night (Saturday 5 March) which they see as undercutting sales by giving away forty-eight copies of a list of classic backlist titles to volunteers around the UK to distribute as they see fit, working from the premise that word of mouth recommendation is the best way to generate book sales. Our local librarian, attempting to co-ordinate deliveries for this new initiative chaired by Canongate's Jamie Byng, sounded equally exasperated as I checked on arrangements for my son to pick up his pile this weekend. True enough, the scheme has well-publicised teething problems, in our case with belated confirmation of volunteers' participation, confusion about pick-up locations (Blaenau Gwent; no, sorry: Aberystwyth, we were told; then the library, or is it Waterstone's) and matching volunteers to deliveries. The only parcel of Toni Morrison's Beloved which arrived at the library is addressed to some woman who is not my son: a slight snag. Still, can't really complain, since my boy, ever-keen to join anything online where he doesn't have to prove he's thirteen, is not strictly eligible. His first choice was Philip Pullman's Northern Lights; mine would have been Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or perhaps our own Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. Whether or not we have to haggle come Saturday with some lady over the bonanza of Beloveds hardly matters, nor whether my son will soon have new contraband other than DVDs to flog via Amazon (joke): we'll have visited the library and the bookshop, and engaged with strangers on the topic of books. And despite some moaning, the initiative has already boosted sales of the twenty-five titles in the promotion. The perfect way to celebrate my first week at the magazine, even if it involves a literary tussle.
Also on Saturday, look out on the telly for Wales Book of the Year winner Deborah Kay Davies, who will be featured on BBC 2's Culture Show special, “New Novelists, 12 of the Best”, broadcast at 9pm. Five judges with John Mullan as Chair made the selection of debut authors in an unashamed embracing of literary fiction. Deborah's first novel, True Things About Me, was published by Canongate but her prizewinning short fiction collection, Grace, Tamar and Laszlo the Beautiful, came out with Parthian. The Guardian, recently covering the Culture Show showcase, made an interesting exploration of literary fiction but did not mention the crucial, undersung role small and independent publishers play in discovering debut authors. Plus ca change.