Buy a Book For a Friend or BABFF

by M.J. Hearle

Riding the bus to work this morning, I glanced up from my book (Justin Cronin’s The Passage) and noticed something disturbing. Nobody else was reading. Here was a perfect opportunity to escape into a story – twenty or thirty minutes in a noisy, smelly bus is something I would imagine most people would want to escape from – but apart from some bald fellow a few seats down from me rustling a newspaper, I was the only one taking advantage of it. Everyone else was plugged into their iPhones, zoning out to music or podcasts, watching tv, or worse yet – working!

When I arrived at my office, I did a quick survey of whether or not people were reading books at the moment and I was discouraged by the responses. Mainly, I received vaguely guilty expressions, and answers along the lines of ‘I know I should read more but I just don’t have the time.’ Thinking back to the bus ride I realised how weak an excuse this is. Don’t get me wrong – I’m well aware of how family, friend and work commitments can eat into your free time but most of us have at least a half hour block each day that we could spend reading. Whether it’s travelling to and from work, our lunch break or just before we go to sleep at night.

Unfortunately, this time tends to get stolen by the internet or that wiliest of thieves – television. I know that after a busy day at work, school, or looking after the kids the last thing you want to do is concentrate. Most people just want to let go, unwind, bliss out – and television is the easiest avenue to do this. Lord knows, I’m just as guilty of this as the next person. I love television. There’s a lot of great stuff out there (Mad Men and Breaking Bad are my current favourites), but I’ll let you in on a little secret – reading a good book isn’t a chore.

In fact, I’d argue it’s a lot more immersive and rewarding than television. Because we’re forced to read books at school I think too many people carry into adulthood the misconception that reading is study. It’s not. Or doesn’t have to be. Reading can be just as mindlessly entertaining as the junkiest tv show (maybe not as mindless as Jersey Shore, but I digress). My point is, you don’t always have to read ‘literature’. Sometimes a dirty little paperback – a bodice-ripper, a horror novel, a spy thriller, chick lit – can be perfectly satisfying (just like that packet of tim tams you hide in your fridge’s salad and vegetable tray).

Now, if you’re reading this there’s a good chance I’m preaching to the converted. However, you probably know a few non-readers – might even be married to or dating one, which brings me to the topic of this blog. I’d like to start a new monthly initiative called ‘Buy A Book For a Friend.’ Or BABFF, if you’re a fan of acronyms. What BABFF entails is this: the first week of every month you a buy a book for someone who wouldn’t normally buy a book for themselves. Not just any book but a book specifically tailored to appeal to them.

What I mean by this is, if you’ve got a mate who’s mad about Top Gear, you probably shouldn’t pick them up the latest Marian Keyes. Likewise, if you’re trying to tempt your girlfriend away from her BlackBerry a Jack Reacher novel isn’t your best bet. Think about the person’s tastes and choose your book carefully. Remember, we’re trying to bring them back into reading fold not scare them away. For this reason, I’d steer clear of thousand plus page behemoths. People are less likely to read a novel if it looks like they might hurt themselves picking it up.

Why is it so important to me that more people read and why might it be important to you? It’s simple: the more readers out there, the bigger demand for books and therefore the demand for people who write the books. Publishers are going to be less inclined to take risks on new authors if the market continues to dwindle. BABFF is my attempt to to give the publishing industry a bit of an economic boost. After all, it makes sense to support the industry I one day hope will support me. So, please visit a local bookstore some time this week to buy a book for a friend. If nothing else, they’ll be grateful for the gift. Who knows you might just spark a love of reading, which will have positive ripple effects for your career down the line.

M. J.