When UNESCO invited Madrid to become the inaugural World Book Capital in 2001, the idea proved so successful they decided to make it an annual honour. New Delhi, Antwerp, Montreal and the current Armenian winner, Yerevan, are among the 11 metropolises to have had a crack since then, and now Oxford is bidding to join them.
'It's always difficult to tell what chance of success we have," said Philip Pullman, the award-winning author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, a University of Oxford graduate and, more recently, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the hallowed empire.
"We don't yet know what our competition will be and these decisions can sometimes be political. In the past we have had a strong bid for the European Capital of Culture which was overlooked – perhaps because the judges thought we already had plenty of culture."
Speaking at the launch of the bid at the 400-year-old Convocation House in the city’s Bodleian Library, Pullman was joined by Inspector Morse writer Colin Dexter, local MPs, a gaggle of book fans and officials from Cultural Development Agency Oxford Inspires, who are steering the bid.
Their committee for the campaign, which would begin in April 2014 and run for a year, includes the Bodleian, The Story Museum, Oxford Literary Festival and Oxford University Press.
"The campaign will celebrate Oxford and Oxfordshire's rich literary connections," promised Bid Chairman Tony Stratton, who said the team had "unparalleled resources to support a programme of this kind".
"We have world-renowned publishers, booksellers and libraries and there are probably more major authors of fiction and non-fiction based in and around Oxford than any comparable city in the world.
"We are culturally diverse and already attract visitors from all over the world, and we boast a strong reading public and an established and extremely successful literary festival. Our goal would be to inspire the world to pick up and read more books more often."
Local children’s author Natasha Narayan said the project was "very strong". "It is no surprise that the city produced great children's authors like Lewis and Tolkein," she pointed out. "As an author I find the city a wonderful and inspiring place to write in."
A series of consultations aim to galvanize support in the next few months, starting with a "big book" installation by artist Diana Bell in Bonn Square until Monday (September 20 2010), inviting passers-by to express their thoughts on the campaign.
"Oxford gave me a University education but, best of all, it gave me a Bodleian readers' card," reflected Pullman.
"It would be a wonderful host city."
Keep up to date with the bid at www.oxfordworldbookcapital.org