“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers”
So says Charles William Eliot, and I tend to agree with him. And not just because I’ve thrown my lot in with the literary world. Books are where you learn that others share your weirdest thoughts and experiences, and are able to describe them in a way that makes you want to squee with delight or tattoo the words into your skin. What’s more, they let you experience life as someone else, allowing you to get a grip on the unseen forces which batter some while you relax in ignorant shelter. I can confidently say I would be a different person had I not become acquainted with John Singer and Don Gately and Ignatius J. Reilly, with JR from New York and Ruthie from Fingerbone and Oscar Wao from the Dominican Republic, now of Paterson, New Jersey. That’s without mentioning Esther Greenwood or Hazel Motes or the Glass family, nor Mr Small or Spot the Dog or any of the menagerie of Redwall mammals, ie. any of the hundreds of fictional folk who helped build the world as I now see it.
If, then, you cannot read, you automatically miss out on an army* of literary friends to entertain you and hold your hand and generally remind you that you are not alone. You may or may not know that UNESCO estimate there are 757 million adults, including 115 million youths (15-24), who cannot read or write the simplest of sentences. They even have a cool interactive map to give you a better idea of where the problem is biggest.
Worldreader is non-profit organisation dedicated to creating a literate world through digital education. Their Worldreader Mobile app (available on even the simplest feature phones) brings digital books to families around the planet, allowing communities without access to any print books to connect to a library of over 28,500 titles in over 40 languages. And this sort of programme extends far further than helping people gain basic skills. Take the current Ebola outbreak as an example. With such a deadly disease it can be difficult to provide adequate information to those in danger, particularly when moving around increases the risk of transmission and worsens the situation. Worldreader are utilising their mobile reading app to disseminate information to help save lives, from vital health advice to inspiring stories from survivors, while minimising the need for movement on the ground, and thus transmission.
Of course, all this ignores the whole special, reading-as-a-magic-activity side of things that Charles William Eliot was getting at. Books are fun and comforting and inspiring and door-unlocking in so many ways, and I believe quite firmly that increasing the number of young people reading is one of the best ways to deal with current issues and prepare ourselves for future ones. Worldreader actively curates books by African and Indian authors, so rather than just beaming the same dusty classics all over the world, they’ve developed a library representative of the diversity of interests, tastes and subjects seen around the globe. Better still, the mobile aspect will help transform education into an unstoppable force. No longer will your gender or religion or race prevent access to education, nor any disabilities, nor your social standing. With a small amount of help from charities like Worldreader, we can overcome privilege and prejudice by placing education in the hands of the people. We can be each other’s quiet, constant friends.
It’s all pretty inspiring. So much so that I decided to try to help with my own version of community and worldwide collaboration. Quiet, Constant Friends, a compilation of literary-themed songs by some of my favourite artists, will be sold in support of Worldreader, with every penny of the profits going straight into their good work. Some of the songs were recorded especially for this release, some are from upcoming albums and others are old favourites which fit nicely with the theme. You can listen to one new track, ‘I’m a Book on Tape’ by Lewtrakimou, right now:
I’ll be unveiling more songs between now and release, so keep your eyes peeled for that, and check out the artwork and full tracklisting below:
1. The Well – Danielle Fricke
2. Cattleya – Lotte Kestner
3. Akhnilo Blues – Wes Tirey
4. Everything That Rises Must Converge – Pasture Dog
5. Pretty Steep – Old Earth
6. Little Big Man – Salt Altars
7. Not Her – Henry Demos
8. Mexico City – Beat Radio
9. Hair – Sondra Sun-Odeon
10. Haruki Murakami – Nathan Amundson (of Rivulets)
11. Jim and the Rather Large Nectarine – Windmill
12. The Book of Love – ARMS
13. TV – Oh, Rose & Sawtooth
14. Don’t Go Away Ahumpf Acgroomf – Free Cake For Every Creature
15. The Overlook Hotel – John Ross
16. I Drank Phosphorus with my Aunt Lucy – Kissing Fractures
17. Past Lives – Nice Legs
18. King of Crumbs – Ben Seretan
19. Oak and Linden Tree Abridged – Trouble Books
20. I’m a Book on Tape – Lewtrakimou
21. Runway – Nadia Reid
As if collaborating with 20-odd acts wasn’t exciting enough, we’ve also enlisted the talents of a range of artists and illustrators to design special-edition postcards for each song. Again, I’ll be unveiling these as time goes on, but check out the piece for Lewtrakimou’s song by Ji Hyun Yu below:Huge, huge, huge thanks go out to everyone involved. It has been so great to see how nice and enthusiastic people can be about a simple idea, and how it can evolve into something much better than I ever expected. I owe you all.
Quiet Constant Friends is out now. You can buy it from our Bandcamp page, including a limited edition cassette, complete with some super-limited edition art postcard prints (you can browse the complete set of artworks here).We decided against having this as a free download in an attempt to raise as much for Worldreader as we possibly can. Obviously, if you choose to pay more than the suggested amount you are donating more to Worldreader, so feel free to do that. That said, we know times are tough, so if anyone wants a download, just drop us a message/tweet/email and we’ll sort you out, no questions asked.
* I’m taking suggestions for the best collective noun for friends who only exist in books.