Victoria Gray was in upstate New York when a bookseller asked her if she would buy an extra book to donate to a single mother refuge. She felt good about the donation and a few years later remembered the incident and was inspired to create the charity Give a Book in memory of her late husband, the writer Simon Gray (pic left), author of more than 30 stage plays and novels and the non-fiction trilogy Smoking Diaries, who himself loved to share his reading. Since then Give a Book has gone from strength to strength, and today encompasses Breakfast Book Clubs at schools in partnership with Magic Breakfast, where children from poorer backgrounds are given breakfast and a book.
The charity also gives books to pensioners and books to primary schools. “We only give books to people who need them, to people with a problem with literacy and also dictionaries to prisoners who complete the Six Book Challenge for emergent readers,” explains Gray, who sometimes goes to prison reading groups and hopes to work with prisoners in Wormwood Scrubs. This year alone Give a Book distributed 3,000 dictionaries, so 3,000 prisoners must have completed the Six Book Challenge. All prisoners by law have a library and Give a Book hands out bags of books to prisoners’ families so they have something for them to share when they are inside.
Give a Book is supported by a number of organisations including The Daisy Trust which supports its work in Hammersmith and Fulham, and also several publishers give new books or special deals. If you would like to help you could pop to Daunt Books on Holland Park Avenue which has organised a “Book Drop” for Give a Book. It’s best if the donated books are in good condition. Especially needed are good quality children’s books, but they would love novels, biographies, stories, quick reads and poetry. Says Gray: “We have been incredibly helped by people’s donations.”
And then I was given a book. It is The Pleasure of Reading edited by the charity’s patron, the novelist and historical writer Lady Antonia Fraser. Inside 43 writers, from A.S Byatt, Margaret Atwood, Melvyn Bragg and Jeanette Winterson write about the books that inspired them. It is a fascinating and inspirational read and you can buy it from any local bookshop, or here … amazon.co.uk Or you could take a pile of nearly-new books and pick up a copy at Daunt giveabook