A recovering alcoholic, a mother and son, a man on his way home after a shift at work. These were some of the people I watched walk away from me, into the distance, staring at a book I’d just handed to them. On a strangely balmy spring evening in Oldham town centre the reaction of those who took a copy of David Almond’s Skellig was the same; they would turn the book front and back, trying to make sense of my odd act of generosity, as they literally headed into the sunset.
I thought I would be proud. Instead, I felt powerless. From seconds before being an ambassador of the novel who spoke about World Book Night, the joy of reading and my own reflections on Skellig I became the guy left behind, standing on the street corner, watching. Hoping. Maybe the hardest thing about kindness is the letting go.
At that moment I became irrelevant, even though I was the World Book Night volunteer. So did David Almond, even though he was the book’s author. All that mattered was that copy of the book and the person holding it. For all I know each recipient could have waited until I was out of view and tossed it into the bin, or left it closed and untouched at the bottom of their bag. But World Book Night’s organisers, authors and volunteers dedicate themselves to hoping they didn’t.
Whatever the outcome, this south Manchester lad also felt some strangely proud of Oldham that evening. This was a town I had a negative impression of when growing up but today it has come to play a great role in my life.
People of all ages and backgrounds could be seen, making use of a new Metrolink, an excellent library, a local swimming pool, a concert hall. All live side by side in a place which over the years has had its fair share of troublemakers wishing they didn’t. Maybe it was the weather but on a quiet, random Thursday night I watched the town flourish in its own understated way.