Thursday, 15 October 2009

The Society for Unread Authors, continued

I have written before on these pages about the Society for Unread Authors. I published this article in the Guardian yesterday, with the aim of raising public awareness of this shamefully overlooked social problem. Hopefully it will give much needed publicity to SUA and the important work it does – assuming anyone read the article, of course.


My Society for Unread Authors aims to help all those whose books are destined to be ignored

This is a column with a mission. I am here to tell you about the vital philanthropic work I do as chief executive of the registered charity SUA: the Society for Unread Authors. SUA offers support to all those writers who are left impoverished and traumatised by failing to acquire a readership.

The statistics make depressing reading. According to Unesco, about 200,000 books are published in the UK each year, more per capita than any other country. Perversely, Unesco seems to regard the quantity of books produced by a country as a sign of literacy and general cultural enlightenment. But the sad fact is that there are too many authors and not enough readers. Most of these books will be read by no one at all before they are shredded or disappear into library vaults, never to be recalled again.

This is a particularly difficult time for unread authors as more books than ever are being published in the run-up to Christmas: 800 appeared on a single day, 1 October, or "Super Thursday". Our unread books are being buried under a cacophonous pile of discounted Dan Browns and autobiographies by Ant & Dec. The situation is now so dire that even books by bona fide celebrities are remaining unread. We count many of them among our members.

At the moment our work consists mainly of getting our members to read each other's books, so they will no longer be unread. I am currently ploughing through a history of steam traction engines in Rutland. It's a bit of a chore, but if I can struggle through to the end it will be worth it just to see the poor author's face light up as he learns that he has at last acquired a reader. The trouble is that this is all a drop in the ocean. We just do not have the resources at SUA to read even a fraction of all the unread books in the world.

That is why the society is applying for lottery funding to expand its operations in two ways. Our first strategy is to incentivise the non-readers, those absent-minded creatures who buy lots of books, with every good intention, and never get round to reading them. Of course, these are not bad people; they just have other things on their minds. Some of them are busy writing their own, soon to be unread books. Certain members of my organisation think we should pay these people an hourly rate to read our books. But I think this is just throwing money at the problem without tackling the underlying causes. Instead we need to employ a team of fulltime reader enforcers, who would go into people's homes, point out the unread books on their shelves, set daily reading targets and ensure they are being met.

Our second proposal is more radical. What we clearly have is a word mountain, a pile of unread verbiage every bit as shamefully wasteful as that EU grain mountain we heard so much about in the bad old days of the unreformed common agricultural policy. So we propose a similar solution to the one the EU used to tackle the grain mountain: set aside. Just as many farmers have to set aside a proportion of their land and leave it fallow, certain books would have to remain unpublished for a few years to give the unread books a chance.

To make things fair, SUA has developed a computer program which has generated a random list of books that would have to be set aside. The list includes any book in which the following words appear on the cover: The Little Book Of, Loose Women, Cosmic Ordering, Angels, High School Musical, Jeremy Kyle. I know many people will be dismayed that this list will deprive us of so many fine books that would enrich our cultural life. But in the interests of the mental wellbeing of our members, we at the society regard this high price as just about worth paying.


  1. Could we also add "Secret" and "They Never Told You" to that list? :-)

  2. I'm not sure how the computer missed them.

  3. I don't like your two ideas.
    However, I understand there is need for something to be done for this problem.

    Why not send all these unsold books in public libraries and schools in poor areas in the world, where young people try to learn or improve their english?
    Some will read them as a means to improve their english.

  4. I have become aware of your 'movement' and offer some ways forward upon my own pages.