Zadie Smith, Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison and Mark Haddon are among the big names contributing to a Vintage essay collection described as a "mission statement about the paramount importance of reading to our quality of life".
Stop What You're Doing and Read This! argues that the deeply immersive reading experience improves not just our literacy but our mental health and well-being, enriching our experience and broadening our imaginations. "Deep reading"—reading closely and with attention—changes the brain, and is an antidote to the frenzied pace of daily life with its frequent interruptions, the contributors argue.
Editor Frances Macmillan said the book had come about because in Vintage's 21st anniversary year the publisher wanted to "nail our colours to the mast and say something hopefully not preachy, but unapologetically for reading", influenced by Random House chair Dame Gail Rebuck, "who is very interested in literacy and what reading can offer in terms of a quiet, contemplative, deeper experience".
It was also prompted by a sense of the current threats to reading, whether through library closures, or widespread press articles about the death of the book in the age of digital, Macmillan said.
Zadie Smith's chapter is a transcript of the impassioned speech she gave in support of Kensal Rise Library last March, where she said the library cuts were "so shameful I doubt this government will ever live it down".
Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, contributes a chapter about digital reading, in which he reflects on the importance of retaining your focus on the book itself, even if your reading device also has internet access.
Meanwhile, Jeanette Winterson tells of how books and poetry provided her with a lifeline in times of severe trouble; Blake Morrison investigates our attitudes to books, from a sense of ownership to a "common fear of poetry"; and former publisher Carmen Callil reflects on her reading life and the responsibility of publishers.
Vintage will publish the book as a £4.99 b-format paperback at the end of December in time for the "New Year, New You" retail promotions in January, and plans to run extracts of several of the essays in the press.