The idea behind Cityread is very simple. Every year they pick a book they think Londoners should read. And every April they put on a programme of book groups, special events and film screenings across all 33 London boroughs in libraries, bookshops, museums and other venues, and invite you to join in.
This year's book is Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, which I've told you before is excellent, so you've probably read it. If by some chance not, it brings together two fantastic ideas in a combination that shouldn't quite work, but does. Firstly that the Metropolitan Police has a tiny subdivision of wizards, because magic is real and they need to fight against it. And secondly that each of London's rivers, lost or otherwise, is watched over by its own individual goddess, the chief of whom lives in an apartment in Wapping. Throw in some Georgian Punch and Judy nasties for good measure, and that's this April's book. A perfect choice.
To launch Cityread to the wider public, the organisers and the author turned up in Covent Garden on Friday. They settled on the western end of the piazza by the portico to St Paul's, the actors' church, because that's the spot where the ghost turns up as chapter 1 kicks off. It's a tough gig trying to attract attention here on a busy afternoon, not least thanks to the juggling unicyclists parading their skills to a burgeoning audience alongside. To combat this, and in the absence of an actual ghost, the team brought in a gleaming 1965 Jaguar of the type driven by the fictional Detective Chief Superintendent. Behind the wheel was the junior hero of the piece, DC Peter Grant, or at least actor Ben Bailey Smith playing the part for the afternoon. Throw in 1000 free books and a squad of Metropolitan Police cadets to distribute them, and you have an interesting marketing set piece.
Not every passer-by could be persuaded. Faced with the offer of a free paperback many simply walked past, perhaps because they didn't want to carry a block of wood pulp round all afternoon, or more likely because they didn't speak the language. Covent Garden's piazza on a bank holiday afternoon is perhaps not the optimum location to target actual Londoners. For those who took up the offer, the price of acquisition was a chat with a Met cadet keen to explain something of the book, and of their own non-wizardly work keeping the capital safe from the non-supernatural. There was then the opportunity to get their freebie signed, but by which Ben? Some queued by the Jag for a frontispiece scribble from an actor playing a fictional character for the afternoon, while others waited to say hi to the author himself. He's somewhat foolishly agreed to give a talk in a library in every borough in London this month, which means a lot of travelling to do and a somewhat limited social calendar for the next few weeks. You've missed him in Southwark and Greenwich, but slots elsewhere remain available, kicking off with Sutton library on Tuesday evening. Or you could just get hold of the book and read it, because that's the point. Your local library probably has a heck of a lot of copies in stock.