Books

Why London’s Big Read initiative is so important

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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A brilliant new reading initiative has arrived in London. Here’s everything you need to know.

London’s inaugural Big Read launches today, dedicating the whole month of March to shining a light on six of the city’s finest authors. 

Each of the authors has written about a subject that has particular relevance for London’s multicultural society today, from Afua Hirsh’s Brit(ish), an exploration of race and identity, to June Sarpong’s Diversify, a call to arms to help all of us reach our potential, and Bianca Miller-Cole’s Self Made, the ultimate guide to launching your own business. Other brilliant books on the list include Paterson Joseph’s Julius Caesar and Me, Kevin Lueshing and Mike Dunn’s Belt Boy and David Olusoga’s Black and British

Throughout the month, Londoners are encouraged to work their way through each of the six books and vote for the one they believe all city dwellers should read, with the winner being crowned as London’s official Big Read for 2018.

To help you kickstart your reading, private members club The Library is opening its doors throughout the month and inviting people to take away a free copy of any of the books, in exchange for swapping one of their old ones. Each of the authors will also be leaving copies of their books on the London Underground for eagle-eyed commuters to grab today.

So, why is the initiative so vitally important? Here, three of the authors tell stylist.co.uk what the Big Read means to them - and what they hope it will achieve.

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Afua Hirsh, author of Brit(ish)

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“I love language,” wrote Claudia Rankine, one of my favourite poets, “because when it succeeds, for me, it doesn’t just tell me something. It enacts something. It creates something. And it goes both ways.

“Sometimes it’s violent. Sometimes it hurts you. And sometimes,” she wrote, “it saves you.”

Rankine was one of the authors who took part in New York’s Big Read - a project which revitalised the role of reading in American culture. Now London’s Big Read is placing books, and the practice of reading for pleasure, back at the heart of our city. I’m so honoured to be one of the authors chosen to be part of it. My book Brit(ish) is the product of my life’s work - a journey into the questions of identity and belonging that I know affect us all in unique and vital ways.

I love the way books can start conversation - some of it heated - and make us think critically about what’s going on around us. You might not agree with what I say. But as long as you are reading, thinking, engaging with books - whoever they are by and whatever they are about - you really cannot go wrong.

Bianca Miller-Cole, co-author of Self Made

I think the London Big Read initiative is a phenomenal way to get people more engaged with reading and supporting London based authors. Reading has always been an important part of my life - I was a bit of a book worm in my childhood. So it is great to be involved with LBR, not only to talk about how Self Made can have a positive impact on individuals but also to encourage reading in general.

Self Made was written to provide actionable content from page one. We wanted to take readers on a journey through their business, including business mapping, networking, marketing and personal branding, all the way up to selling the business. Each step of the way, we utilise our personal experience and realistic illustration of what to do to gain business success (even without a Lord Sugar level investment). We believe that regardless of whether a reader is in the start-up or growth stage of the business, there are elements of this book that would give them the information they need to succeed.

June Sarpong, author of Diversify

I’m delighted to have been selected as one of the authors for the inaugural London’s Big Read - this is a great way to bring our city together and to find common ground through the power of literature. My hope with Diversify is that it will encourage the reader to re-look at who and how we value people in society and what we’re all losing out on in not creating a framework that enables everyone to contribute to the best of their ability. My hope is that difficult and necessary conversation will be had, which will help to better unite people who might view someone as “Other”.

Main image: Saud Sarosh

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Sarah Biddlecombe

Sarah Biddlecombe is an award-winning journalist and Digital Features Editor at Stylist

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